January 5-11, 2017 • BAY AREA REPORTER • 23
Moonlight becomes him by Gregg Shapiro
piece. I had to go back and reread the original, and I was like, “Oh, yeah, there’s so much of it in there.”
ritten and directed by Miami native Barry Jenkins, Moonlight is based on a short play by gay playwright and Miami native Tarell McCraney. Presented in three separate chapters, Moonlight tells the heart-rending story of Chiron, as a child, a teen and an adult, growing up in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. The three actors – Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes – are exceptional, and the supporting cast, including Mahershala Ali (drug kingpin Juan), Janelle Monae (Juan’s girlfriend Teresa), Naomie Harris (Chiron’s mother Paula) and André Holland (the adult Kevin, the love of Chiron’s life), are all outstanding. That sound you hear? That’s the welldeserved Oscar buzz about Moonlight. I spoke with Tarell McCraney about the movie in October. Gregg Shapiro: Congratulations on the reception that Moonlight has received. Tarell McCraney: Thank you. I don’t think any of us expected the response we’re getting, to be honest. A lot of this has been a passion project. I wrote the original script as something that was more of a personal exploration. I think [director] Barry [Jenkins] got involved because he could personally see himself there and wanted to tell a story
Courtesy the subject
Gay playwright Tarell McCraney’s In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue was the basis of director Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight.
about Liberty City. We didn’t think past just doing that. I think people are responding to that personal passion. Clearly, it resonates with other people. What was the process of adapting your short play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue for the movie? The original piece that was sent to Barry was a script I had been playing with since 2003. I was trying to figure out whether I could turn it into a limited series or something. We were both working with a group called the Borscht Film Festival here
in Miami, mostly underground and indie films and shorts. It was a little longer than they could use; so they put it away. Then they put the Moonlight script in Barry’s hands. He looked at it and thought he could do something with it. I gave him permission to do it.
Absolutely, his one true love! It’s not a down-low story at all. Chiron’s never with anyone else. It’s different when you say someone is living a lie and they’re going and doing other things. But he wasn’t. That’s the powerful thing about it. It’s one of the things Barry wanted to preserve, and so did I.
Was there back-and-forth collaboration on the screenplay? Not really, in terms of a lot of backand-forth. He did send me the script when he finished it. Once he started working on it, it was fairly swift. He had captured so much of the original
Most of Moonlight is set in Miami. As a Miami native, what can you tell me about the significance of the setting? It’s a Miami that we rarely get to see. What we usually see are powdered beaches and jiggly things in
Bad Peruvian trip by Erin Blackwell
don’t know when the last time is I watched a Peruvian film. After Videofilia (and Other Viral Syndromes), I’m not sure when the next time will be, but I hope it’s far, far in the future. Yes, the title is great, and director Juan Daniel F. Molero is ambitious and savvy enough to position his film as his country’s Oscar hopeful, but at an hour and 50 minutes, Videofilia winds up looking like a self-indulgent exercise in editing across visual platforms that ultimately merge in a sloppy psychedelic soup of porn-fueled machismo undercutting any claim to originality. You can see it or not at the Roxie Theater starting tomorrow, Jan. 6. I adore the premise, or do I mean the promise of Videofilia: film as a form of altered consciousness integrating earthquakes, military psy ops, angels, pornography, sexual slavery, urban sniper videogames, cosmetic surgery, virtual reality glasses, snuff films, lysergic acid, Mayan ritual sacrifice, witchcraft, cosplay, rats, percussion, found footage, and amateur actors. Okay, I could do without the snuff films, but I respect any artist or philosopher’s attempt to include everything in the world, not just a narrow corner. Molero’s mixology is technically a heady cocktail, but his narrative sucks. The misogyny is pervasive and oppressive, I mean literally, sucks the pleasure out of the film. That such a hate-filled manifesto gets this far in the Oscar sweepstakes – which, okay, is not really very far, because when’s the last time Peru won an Oscar? But still, brother, what a dismaying kick-off to the films of 2017 to have this paean to the penis taking up space at the Roxie, that purported forward-viewing establishment. I mean “penis” as the sine qua non of personhood, a position the Vatican fully supports. Fuck the Pope. The narrative is hard to follow, on purpose, to make room for the visuals, which have a borderline documentary feel, creating a sense of immersion into the filmed world. So far, so good, except did Molero, does anyone, really need almost two hours
of my time to let me know men exploit women through technology? I guess he does, if he wants to rub my nose in it, which he does with gusto, until I finally reach the conclusion that no, this is not a truly revolutionary denunciation of the degrading effects of sexual commodification, but a winking celebration of the ongoing enslavement and hatred of women. The hero is a budding pornographer who pimps his girlfriend via DVD: that’s the plot. To kill time, Molero lets his male characters theorize and his female characters discuss nose jobs. As two men watch a pixelated version of our hero’s gyrating victim, they hit pause to philosophize. “There’s no more reality or virtual reality. Everything’s been mixed up in this world. Reality is like this screen. All pixelated and fragmented. You’ll never find a pattern to it. But you just gotta
As a playwright, you have worked with a variety of directors, gay and straight. Barry happens to be straight. What was it like working with him on Moonlight? We work with the straights often! We have to work with them. One of the important things to Barry was to preserve the voice of the piece. The piece is so specifically about queer identity. He respected that. Most people want to characterize it as a story about a man living on the down-low, which is actually not what the piece is about. It’s about a guy who only wants to be with one person. It’s kind of a true love story.
roll with it.” Maybe this sense of displacement is why men cling to their antiquated cult of machismo. As long as men can enslave women, really, what does the disintegration of consciousness matter? The film itself devolves into just one more agent of disintegration or degradation, by reiterating found images and messages without finding a way to reintegrate spirit into our era’s demonic technology. Molero’s is an arrogantly masculinist vision in which men have the magic, the machines, the murdering rage, and women are second-class citizens or chattel along for the ride, groupies who listen and admire but have no meaningful agency. Videofilia will do well in the straight-tostreaming young pothead market. Upside: if you make it all the way through the film, you’ll emerge into actually real reality to realize it’s not so bad as you thought.t
From page 21
First and best take on an outlandish caper, a plot to hijack a New York City subway train. The gang led by Robert Shaw must overcome a dogged transit cop (Walter Matthau). A transit employee (James Broderick, Matthew’s dad) gets the best quip: “What do they want for the fucking 35 cents, to fucking live forever?” Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (USA/1974) Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges team up in crime drama, directorial debut of Michael Cimino. (both 1/26) Blue Collar (1978) Paul Schrader’s directorial debut, tale of three union autoworkers (Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto) who discover their union is not their friend. An American unraveling-ofsuccess story with extra heft in this Trump moment. Straight Time (1978) Edward Bunker’s novel No Beast So Fierce brought to the screen by Ulu Grosbard, aided by a dazzling cast: Dustin Hoffman, Hary Dean Stanton, Gary Busey, M. Emmet Walsh, Sandy Baron and Kathy Bates. (both 1/27) Charley Varrick (1973) Rag-tag gang led by Walter Matthau robs a Mafia-run bank, triggering a terrifying showdown in a small New
bikinis, both male and female. We show there is immense beauty to the city, as well as immense poverty and other urban issues. The scene on the beach between teenage Chiron and Kevin takes intimacy to a whole new level. It’s one of the scenes where Barry really preserved the nature of it from the original. Everyone came to the table wanting to be as true and authentic to the moment as possible. Barry didn’t shirk the responsibility; he wanted it to be as beautiful as it needed to be. Remember, we have to hold that in our heart for another decade. That is a defining moment of Chiron’s life, and it is extraordinarily beautiful. What I appreciated about what Barry did is that he trusted the words that had been written. How much of Tarell is in Chiron? A lot. Except for when he becomes a drug dealer! A lot of the piece is based on events in my life. A lot of the ways I operated in the world, being very shy and not being able to say a lot, are very close. Are there any new plays or productions on the horizon? Not that I’ve written. My play Head of Passes is going to Los Angeles in the summer of 2017, starring Phylicia Rashad. Other than that, I’m teaching my students at University of Miami.t Mexican town. Directed by Don Siegel (Dirty Harry) based on John H. Reese’s novel The Looters. The Brink’s Job (1973) William Friedkin spins a nifty tale, the 1950 robbery of a Brink’s armored car. Peter Falk is the mastermind, with Peter Boyle, Allen Garfield, Warren Oates, Paul Sorvino, Sheldon Leonard and Gena Rowlands. Sexy Beast (2000) Nasty noir from British director Jonathan Glazer centers on a retired gangster pushed into doing one more job by a vicious former colleague. Brilliant ensemble includes Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley and James Fox. El Aura (2005) Late Argentine director Fabian Bielinsky (Nine Queens) concocts taut noirish drama focused on a fatal hunting trip, with Ricardo Darin and Nahuel Perez Biscayart, youthful star of gay feature Glue. (all four, 1/28) Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007) Acclaimed director Sidney Lumet’s last film feels like the work of a much younger man. Two brothers (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke) stage a robbery of their elderly parents’ jewelry store for the insurance money. Everything that can go wrong does. Gem of a caper film with astute take on the dark side of family. On same bill with the 2015 German noir Victoria. (both 1/29)t