Moonlight: Why Does It Seem So Real?

One of the most difficult questions to answer when making a film, particularly about a subject or topic that seems foreign, is “How do I make this story and character authentic?” Writers (at least good writers) struggle with this question all the time. It’s a very fine line between real and phony.

The Business, a podcast series hosted by Kim Masters for KCRW Radio, brushed on this topic when interviewing the filmmakers of Moonlight: writer/director Barry Jenkins and producer Adele Romanski. Moonlight is a story of a young, black, gay man searching for identity in Miami, Florida. Barry explains how he was able to create such a gripping and honest character, even though, as a straight man, he has never had the experience of being a homosexual in a straight world.

Barry’s Moonlight was heavily inspired by a play called In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, written by Tarell Alvin McCraney several years earlier. Barry’s secret to keeping Moonlight genuine was Tarell’s play. Tarell, being a homosexual, provided Barry the voice that was needed to tell an authentic and daring tale about a black, homosexual boy struggling through adolescence. Barry also took from his own personal experiences of growing up in Miami. By combining his stories with Tarell’s spirit, he was able to create a brilliant and daring work of art.

Moonlight has grabbed the attention of the film industry. It took Best Picture at Golden Globes, and it is nominated for Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards. Barry was stunned and surprised that such an avant-garde subject was received so well by so many people.

Artists must challenge themselves and venture into unknown territory before they write about an unfamiliar subject. Great filmmakers will meet different people and explore a multitude of paradigms before embarking on a mission to tell a remarkable story. Barry Jenkins did just that with Moonlight, and he has received much critical acclaim as a result.

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Trump’s Order: Film in Peril

Has President Trump already started “making America great again?” With not even half a month into his position as president of the United States, President Trump has already enacted an immigration and refugee ban. When hearing this news, one can easily see this will play a vital role in the world of global politics, national security, and U.S. domestic behavior. However, one might not even realize that this has an impact on the artistic realm of film.

According to an article in Variety, written by Seth Kelly, Trump’s new ban will restrict Iranian director Asghar Farhadi from attending this year’s Academy Awards. This is particularly troubling considering Farhadi’s “The Salesman” has been nominated for Best Foreign Film. The article also mentioned that the star of Farhadi’s film, Taraneh Alidoosti, will not be attending the showcase out of protest against Trump’s decision. One cannot help but wonder how many other celebrities and filmmakers will abstain from the 89th Academy Awards.

Many, if not all, filmmakers believe that film, like other forms of art, transcends borders and that Trump’s ban is a heinous crime against the beauty and diversity of cinema. Even though this ban against Muslim countries is temporary (90 days), it implies a new era in American politics, and, consequently, film. Will American filmmakers have difficulty recruiting Iranian or Libyan actors? Does this ban mean that Trump’s future policies will continue to sever ties to foreign works of art and Middle Eastern influence will disappear from American films?

Film is about connection as much as it is about inward discovery. Time will tell if this new era will contribute to tense foreign relations or if filmmakers can rebel against laws and orders to embrace the value of other cultures and share and explore different perspectives.