Right off the bat I will tell you that I do not think this is the best picture of 2016. I have seen only five of the nine nominees, have not seen the pre-Oscar favorite, La La Land, but of those I have seen I think Hacksaw Ridge and Arrival are both better movies, and Hell or High Water is about equal to this. The only one of the five that I think is not as good as Moonlight is Manchester by the Sea.
I must tread very carefully here. There are questions which, if you ask them, you risk being labeled racist. And when it comes to race, there are questions which you simply cannot ask, such as why is the NBA composed of 74.4% black players? (I’m certainly not going to ask it.)
But damn it, I’m not going to completely shy away from this, even at the risk of being called an angry, disgruntled white man whining because I’m losing my privileged position in society. I welcome the changes that are happening. And yet, take a look at this years Oscars (the top awards; there is no question that people of color are badly under-represented in the behind-the-camera departments).
Three of the nine Best Picture nominees are about race: This one, Fences, and Hidden Figures. One Best Actor (Denzel Washington), one Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali, who won, and was very good, in my opinion), three of the Best Supporting Actresses (Octavia Spencer, Naomie Harris, and Viola Davis, who won) and Ruth Negga as Best Actress are black. (As I said in my review of Loving, I don’t think Negga should even have been nominated.) I would call that pretty good on the diversity scale, for folks who work in front of the camera, who are the only ones the public is aware of.
So here it is. I just have to think that at least some of this came as the result of guilt on the part of the Academy because of all the outrage last year when none of the top categories had a black performer nominated. I hate that. I hate it when it goes either way, either too white or too black. Damn it, a film should be judged on nothing but its merits as a film, not on whether or not it fills a quota, or gets on the ballot because we feel sorry for it. And damn it again, Moonlight is a perfectly good but not astonishing movie. In twenty years I think it will be almost forgotten, like Spotlight, Argo, The Artist, The King’s Speech, Crash, American Beauty, and The English Patient. I’ll bet you’ve forgotten some of those already. It should not have won Best Picture.
Okay. I hope I don’t get a lot of hate mail over this.
So, how is it? It’s good. The writing is good, the acting is good. Very good, in some cases. But I thought it was way too slow. I will admit to a bias here. When choosing between an upbeat movie and a depressing one, I will almost always favor the happy one. It’s just how I am. This one is very, very harsh. Growing up black in the Miami neighborhood of Liberty City, Florida, is hard enough. Being black and gay has to be total hell. We see Chiron at three ages, played by three different actors whose job is mostly to say nothing. Chiron is a very quiet boy, and a quiet man. (I doubt that his junkie mother was aware that Chiron in mythology was a centaur, and that an asteroid or minor planet [there is debate] is named 2070 Chiron.)
Lastly, speaking of race again, how depressing is it that sixty goddam years after Central High School in Little Rock was forcibly integrated by President Eisenhower and the National Guard, the school we see in this movie is 98% black, and the other 2% is Hispanic? Yeah, things are better in some places. But de facto segregation is still very much with us.