Little (Alex R. Hibbert) is a small boy who lives in Miami with his single mother (Naomie Harris), but he is not a happy child since he is suffering at school from the bullies who plague his life. Today they chase him into a derelict house that has boarded up windows, and he hides there until they leave him alone, but as he wanders back down the stairs he is alarmed to hear a banging on the front door, and freezes. Then one of the boards is yanked from the frame, revealing the local drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) standing there and trying to coax the boy out - he fears the worst, but the man seems friendly enough and is indeed taking an interest in his welfare. Once they spend the rest of the day and evening with each other, will Little have finally found someone to rely on?
Alas, he will have to wait a lot longer than that, in what became one of the most controversial Oscar Best Picture winners, not because it was enforcing an unthinking prejudice, not because there was a mix-up when the victor was announced, but because once the publicity had got audiences to see it, a lot of them just did not think it was any good. This was the problem with presenting a small, even fragile little movie as the greatest of its year, it was being asked to bear too much weight and because director Barry Jenkins and his screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney leaned on subtlety and the ability of the viewer to perceive and empathise with the emotions of the characters on the screen, there were always going to be those who were not going to make that journey.
The story was split into three, where we visited the main character through a trio of periods in his life from young childhood where he is nicknamed Little, to awkward teenage years when he bears his given name of Chiron, and lastly as an adult when he is called Black – but only by someone very special to him. In each segment he has to face up to the fact he is different despite everyone around him seeming the same, and that sense of being an outsider informed the whole tone since he was forever wanting acceptance from somebody, anybody, who might love and respect him for who he was. Who was he? A homosexual in a community where that was simply not accepted, and as if the bullies realise this, they pounce.
Ali won an Oscar too, Best Supporting Actor, for playing a non-stereotypical drug pusher when such characters were usually depicted as lowlifes. Though he does take Little under his wing, his wife (Janelle Monáe) tells him some home truths that he may be performing a good deed by looking after the boy when his mother is drifting into crack addiction, but it remains to be seen how he will be judged when it was Juan supplying the dreaded substance in the first place. So even here Little cannot entirely give himself over to somebody else when there are complications, a pattern that repeats as the child grows and internalises his sorrows, for there is just nobody he can open up to and discuss his fears. Perhaps more importantly, there's no one he can discuss his hopes with either.
In the second section, Juan has let Chiron (Ashton Sanders) down in an even more drastic fashion, though he makes a connection with the only person in his school years who makes a move to be friendly, Kevin (Jharrel Jerome, stealing scenes in the same way Ali did in his part). Will this blossom into something more encouraging? Not if the bullies contrive to have their way, and their unwanted attention and abuse propels Black (Trevante Rhodes) to the wrong choices that see him as a grown-up drug dealer just as Juan had been. We meet his mother once more, and she tries to make far too belated amends (Harris offering a painfully raw performance away from her usual fare), but he cannot find solace with someone who has hurt him so badly - or can he? He receives a phone call from the long-lost Kevin (André Holland) and makes his way to meet him... Whereupon we realise that all plenty of us need is a hug at the right time, a non-judgemental, accepting gesture of sincere affection. That was about it for messages, but after all those ups and downs, Moonlight was rather sweet in the end. Don't hate it if it didn't rock your world. Music by Nicholas Britell.