Commentary on Deadline Article on “Moonlight”

Yesterday, an ILC reader brought something to my attention that amazed and excited me in equal measure. So much so I decided to take a short break from my other drafts to wax poetic about what I read; it concerns the international market success for the Oscar-nominated film Moonlight, which I reviewed late last year.

For proper context, I enlist you to read the article on Deadline.com titled ‘Moonlight’ Shines At International Box Office As A24 Grows Offshore Biz Model.

As you will see in the article, a deliberate and strategic effort has been put in place by the film’s director (Barry Jenkins) and distributor (A24) to generate commercial success overseas, in spite of the subject matter and not having any star power that would normally be a draw for international audiences.

What I find fascinating in reading between the lines of this piece is that in addition to the above, there is the factor worth noting – Moonlight is a film which centers on African American lives.

Although the tide does seem to be shifting a bit in recent years, for quite some time I have read about the challenges film and television studios have had when trying to sell or promote their products that prominently feature casts of color. The conclusion being that there just isn’t a market for this “niche” piece of filmmaking overseas. The implied impact, of course, being that if you can’t repeat the domestic success abroad, one must consider carefully any future development projects that fit this profile. Now in the case of Moonlight, there is the recognition that because of the critical/awards successes and high profile it has received, the film’s cache increases as it enters the worldwide box office. Other films, unfortunately, might not be so lucky.

But if this article proves anything, is that with a little creative marketing strategy, the full-throated support of the studio and a general faith in a discerning and sophisticated movie audience, many films can find their footing outside of the United States.

NYFF54 Spotlight: Moonlight (2016)

You may have noticed that recently I have not posted with the frequency I once did. Several reasons – chief among them – I am just a tad busy lately (or maybe I have stated that before). But almost more importantly, 2016 has been an odd year for me cinematically. I have generally enjoyed the films I have seen to date. But if I am honest with you, my awesome readers, nothing has really gotten me overly excited. In the back of my head, I felt/hoped that come fall, the tide would change and we would enter my moviegoing sweet spot. Dear friends, I think we have arrived at that place.

This past weekend, I ventured to the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Lincoln Center to attend the 54th annual New York Film Festival. My Sunday was spent watching Moonlight (which we will discuss below) and Ken Loach’s latest (more on that later this week).

Moonlight marks the follow-up to writer/director Barry Jenkins’ previous feature, 2008’s Medicine for Melancholy.

moonlight

Based on a story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, this is a narrative told in three chapters which are chronicling the life of Chiron as he proceeds on his journey from young boy to young man in a Miami blighted by drugs and violence. But that is not the thing that worries him most – throughout all these stages of his life as portrayed on screen, we see him dealing with and ultimately coming to terms with who he is and what that means to truly embrace his sexuality.

It was refreshing to see such an emotionally raw drama amidst this setting. All too often when portraying communities of color in such a landscape, the story is fraught with what I can only characterize as a tale of hypermasculine “urban strife and turmoil.” And sure, those are important stories to tell, but it is equally important for there to be a representation that also allows this to fall to the periphery for the sake of telling a simple, beautiful story of a young man and his life and times.

Funny enough because of the structure of this film, I reflected on another recent film that similarly explored a young man’s “evolution” and coming of age (I will let you guess which one I am referring to). And while I enjoyed that film, I feel like Moonlight takes that idea and reaches new heights; it really captures those pivotal chapters of the young man’s life in a more controlled, economical and easier to process manner.

And while this is Chiron’s story, Moonlight is a film that is truly an ensemble piece where each of the principle characters – regardless of their station in life – have in them a strain of humanity which allows the audience to connect with them. Credit (of course) goes to the wonderful cast, which includes Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Alex R. Hibbert, Jaden Piner, Ashton Sanders and Jharrel Jerome. They all bring this story and its characters to life.

There is so much more I want to say about Moonlight but I want to leave it to you to see what Barry Jenkins has beautifully constructed.