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Chiron (Alex Hibbert) looks out at a hard future in Barry Jenkins’s Oscar-winning Moonlight

MOONLIGHT (Barry Jenkins, 2016)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Saturday, February 9, 7:00
Series runs February 6-14

BAM is paying tribute to controversial and innovative Texas-born filmmaker Marlon Riggs in conjunction with the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death with “Race, Sex & Cinema: The World of Marlon Riggs.” Riggs, who was gay and black, died in April 1994 at the age of thirty-seven from AIDS complications, leaving behind an important legacy of films, poetry, and essays. Many of his works had major impacts on the next generation of African American writers and directors, as evidenced by this program. On February 9, the series pairs Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, which was nominated for eight Oscars and won three (Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney), with Riggs’s ten-minute 1990 short, Affirmations, about the dreams and desires of gay black men. In Moonlight, Jenkins tells the powerful and moving story of Chiron, a shy, troubled boy growing up in Liberty City, Florida, in three chapters as Chiron goes from a young boy (Little, played by Alex Hibbert) to a teenager (Chiron, played by Ashton Sanders) to a twenty-seven-year-old man (Black, played by Trevante Rhodes). The semiautobiographical film is based on playwright and actor McCraney’s In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue and Jenkins’s own experiences; both men are from Liberty City but did not know each other there. In the first section, Little is chased by bullies and runs into an abandoned building, where he is found by Juan (Ali), a drug dealer who brings him home to his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monáe). They become a kind of surrogate family, as Little’s mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), is a crack addict who will do just about anything for her next score. Little also finds solace in his friendship with Kevin (Jaden Piner, later played by Jharrel Jerome and André Holland). In the second chapter, Chiron is taunted and bullied by Terrel (Patrick Decile) while trying to come to terms with his sexual orientation. In the third section, the passage of time reveals how much has changed, although the film turns overly melodramatic at the end.

Marlon Riggs

Karen Everett’s I Shall Not Be Removed: The Life of Marlon Riggs is part of Riggs tribute at BAM

Taking its inspiration from the source material, Moonlight is beautifully photographed by James Laxton, who has previously shot Medicine for Melancholy and Jenkins’s 2003 shorts, My Josephine and Little Brown Boy, and 2011 “Remigration” episode of Futurestates, bathing the film in lush blues. Jenkins’s subtly paced style is accompanied by a gorgeous classical-inspired score by Nicholas Britell (The Big Short). Moonlight is anchored by superb performances by Emmy nominee Ali (House of Cards, Hidden Figures) as the cool and caring Juan; Harris (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, 28 Days Later) as the drug-addicted Paula, who has lost control of her life; Monáe (Hidden Figures, The Electric Lady) as the sweet and understanding Teresa; and Sanders (The Retrieval) as the in-between Chiron, who feels overwhelmed by all the maelstrom swirling around him. Moonlight and Affirmations are screening at BAM February 9 at 7:00; “Race, Sex & Cinema: The World of Marlon Riggs” runs February 6-14 and includes such other evenings as Riggs’s Tongues Untied and Anthem with Isaac Julien’s The Attendant; a fifteenth-anniversary screening of Rodney Evans’s Brother to Brother, followed by a Q&A with Evans; Su Friedrich’s Hide and Seek and Cheryl Dunye’s Janine; and Lynn Hershman Leeson’s The Complete Electronic Diaries, Peter Rose’s The Man Who Could Not See Far Enough, and Jeanne C. Finley’s I Saw Jesus in a Tortilla.

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