In Depth

Moonlight: Can Barry Jenkins's coming-of-age tale secure an Oscar?

The highly acclaimed film has already won several awards, including a Golden Globe. But will it scoop the big one?

Moonlight can now add a best drama film Golden Globes to its growing bank of accolades, but can it secure an Academy Award to prevent another #OscarsSoWhite and make Barry Jenkins the first African-American to win a best director Oscar?

Loosely based on Tarell Alvin McCraney's play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, Moonlight offers an intimate study of young black man Chiron (Trevante Rhodes), who struggles to find his identity while growing up in Miami. Over the course of two decades, he learns to navigate a world framed by violence and drug-dealing, but develops a strained romance with his best friend Kevin.

Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage, House of Cards) plays Juan, a drug-dealer who takes in Chiron, and Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures) plays his girlfriend.

Meanwhile, Naomie Harris (Skyfall, 28 Days later) takes on a "both wonderful and frightening" role as Chiron's crack-addict mother, says The Atlantic. Hailed by Variety as "her most impressive performance to date".

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In what the Hollywood Reporter calls a "haunting reflection on African-American masculinity", Jenkins uses minimal plot to explore the character of a man used to blocking people out, something its star, Rhodes, understands.

"Growing up, you're told that being a black man - you have to be stronger, more masculine," He says, "So that automatically puts up that block and you don't think it's possible to have any kind of vulnerability about you."

With a story weighing heavily on social issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement and homophobia, critics believe Moonlight is one of most relevant films of the year – but is this enough to secure an Oscar?

The Academy Awards have developed a reputation for a lack of diversity in its nominations. The 2016 ceremony marked the second year running that no acting nominees of colour were nominated - Idris Elba, Will Smith and many others were snubbed - sparking the revival of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag and calls for a boycott.

This year, with the buzz surrounding Moonlight, Fences, Loving and Hidden Figures, things may be different. Viola Davis was awarded a Golden Globe for best supporting actress and Ruth Negga was nominated for best performance. Alongside these two, Ali and Harris are also expected to land Oscar nominations.

"No movie was perhaps ever more sorely required to prevent another #OscarsSoWhite than Moonlight," writes Benjamin Lee in The Guardian. However, Jenkins insists awards are not his aim. "I try and compartmentalise myself from the awards stuff," The director says, "It's really about making a statement that we are all human beings and we feel the same things."

Moonlight will be released in the UK on 17 February.

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