Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Justin Chang and MOONLIGHT

Reading his columns in VARIETY was one of my favorite habits.  I followed him over to my hometown newspaper, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, and any Friday becomes a Good Friday when I hear him as a guest film critic on KPCC radio's FilmWeek.  I recommend you read a column Justin Chang wrote this week in the L.A. newspaper about the film that won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2016, MOONLIGHT.

I love this remarkable, lyrical coming-of-age film.  I did hope it would win the Best Picture Oscar over LA LA LAND.  I feel it's a more substantial film, more a product of a country and a Hollywood industry that has had to go grow up about matters of diversity and inclusion in this 21st Century.  I saw LA LA LAND because I love Emma Stone's acting.  I've been a fan of hers since SUPERBAD.  Damien Chazelle is now the youngest person to win the Oscar for Best Director.  He's 32.  Reportedly, he wrote the script to LA LA LAND when he was 25.  Frankly, it does play like a script written by a 25-year old, Ivy League-educated guy whose family had privileged friends as he grew up.  There's one element about LA LA LAND that reminded me of old romantic comedies starring Doris Day or Marsha Mason and episodes of the sitcom FRIENDS.  You saw unemployed or part-time employed Caucasian characters who can somehow live in a large apartment with a bedroom and a kitchen.  I was in New York City working on weekday television and I lived modestly in a studio apartment.  If I stood arms akimbo with my legs apart like Yul Brynner in THE KING AND I, I could be standing in my kitchen, living room and bedroom at the same time.

I knew very little about MOONLIGHT when I purchased my ticket.  I knew it was an indie film with a black cast and it was helmed by a black director who co-wrote with a friend and fellow black writer.  I did not expect to experience such a poetic, moving film that reflected a part of my soul that I had been forced to keep hidden when I was growing up. Director Barry Jenkins and screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney found the extraordinary humanity in ordinary people who were flawed characters, complicated and deeply human characters, people who were disenfranchised and did not have the blessings of privilege -- a privilege that can come from a certain race and income in America.
MOONLIGHT is also a plea to reach and connect to that humanity you see in someone else.  It's a plea to reach and help keep a broken-hearted soul from going under.
The shot of paternal Juan (the role that brought Mahershala Ali a well-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) holding young Chriron afloat is one of the most powerful images in a story about black life that I've ever seen.  MOONLIGHT is about black and black/Latino life and gay life.  I've seen MOONLIGHT more than once.  The dinner table scene is a film classic.  So much tenderness and unexpressed pain in that scene.  A young boy who's been bullied asks what "faggot" means.  I sat in that theater seat like I was in Catholic church on a Sunday during that scene.  It felt sacred to me.  Tears streamed down my face.
Justin Chang is a very important and vital film journalist to me.  Movies are my passion.  They have been ever since I was a kid growing up near 120th and Central Avenue in South Central L.A.  The friends and neighbors on our cul-de-sac block were black, Mexican, Filipino and there was one white person.  When neighbors would chat on our front lawn or front porch, over the phone or over the fence in the back yard, one topic that came up on a regular basis was the movies.  I always looked for a reflection of myself and my community in movies and on TV.  On the whole, I've never seen those reflections in the field of film critics on network TV news programs and syndicated TV film review show teams.  In this year's Oscar season, it was still predominantly white men telling me why I needed to see FENCES and HIDDEN FIGURES and MOONLIGHT while they overlooked the record-making history Viola Davis, Denzel Washington and the MOONLIGHT filmmakers made by just getting nominated.

Justin Chang reflects the world and people that I know.  He's a smart, excellent, enlightening writer.  On KPCC, the FilmWeek hour with its race/gender inclusive guest list of film critics can be heard at 11am Pacific Time on Fridays.

I recommend reading Justin Chang's "Movies Like MOONLIGHT Don't Win the Oscar for Best Picture -- Until They Do" column from February 27th of this week.  It's outstanding and accurate.  Look for it on latimes.com.

For more information on the FilmWeek show hosted by Larry Mantle during his AIRTALK on KPCC, go here:  scpr.org.

Justin Chang is occasionally on FilmWeek.  He makes me jealous when I hear him speak.  If I had his pipes, I'd be getting voiceover auditions left and right.   And booking the gigs. Dig it!


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