There’s a reason why Moonlight (2016) won last night at the Oscars, even after the result was fudged up by Faye Dunaway and her old pal Warren Beatty did their best during the biggest blunder of the ceremonies 89 year history. Even before the result was corrected on the stage that saw the award go to La La Land (2016) I knew in my heart that it should have gone to admittedly the stronger of the two films – Moonlight. I’d like to use this as my argument for why it should and rightly so have been awarded Best Picture.
At first I wasn’t really fussed by seeing the film, know it was something special. It took reading and listening reviews for me to change my mind and check it out. A 3 act film that follows one Black guy from child to manhood, not so different on the surface they have been urban films before, but none that tackle homosexuality and so sensitively too. A social urban film that doesn’t play up to the stereotypes of African-Americans for a white audiences. Its story is ultimately human which has allowed it to transcend the barrier of colour. The humanity in La La Land’s restricted within the confines of a couple who are striving for their own dreams. Far more selfish than most those in Moonlight. Maybe it’s that we follow Chiron played by three different actors allowing us to spend so much time with him, it’s far more intimate.
La La Land is essentially a love letter to Hollywood by the machine that produced it, a musical that loves musicals. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, however it feels constructed with the intent to win votes for last night. I know that’s not the case, with a release and campaign doing that job for the film. With Moonlight the love is for the a hard-won emotion that Chiron who begins his journey with us under 10 as Little (Alex R. Hibbert) a cute and shy kid who has far more on his mind than most kids. Picked on for being different, but why is he different, at his tender age he begins to look in on himself to consider he maybe gay. Supported ironically by drug lord come mentor Juan (Mahershala Ali) (who rightly won best supporting) who is the cause of Little’s mum Paula’s addiction. Herself played by a dazzling Naomie Harris who filmed her scenes in 3 days in between promotion for the latest Bond film.
You feel nothing but sympathy for Little’s struggle on the street, at school, at home and with his own identity. Finding strength in his young friend Kevin (Jaden Piner) who we follow also throughout Chiron’s life. All you want to do is reach into the screen and hug the little man who has so much to deal with and nowhere to turn. Juan is the only father figure in his life, who is not wanted by Paula as we later learn.
Moving onto high-school and we meet Black (Trevante Rhodes) the teenage Chiron whose grown slightly in confidence, yet still painfully shy. Still friends with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) who will play a pivotal role in Black’s sexuality and future. As we have seen before in film, high-schools harsh world for some, filled with social pressures to conform as you leave childhood to become adult. You really get a sense of the angst that has been building up before it explodes after a fight on the playground that pits friends against each other. It’s nothing short of being a painful watch for the audience. In a way you see it coming, all the pent-up rage being unleashed after a moment of tenderness’s matched with one of betrayal before violence follows.
The final act sees an incredible transformation for Chiron (Ashton Sanders) who is now a drug dealer, beefed up and wearing bling to suit the life he has fallen into. On the surface it gives him power and confidence on the streets, no one questions him, the fear he can incite into those below him. It takes a few minutes to realise this is the same guy who we saw only moments ago. We are also bang-up-to-date in terms of period. La La Land does have a character transformation with that clever and controversial twist. Here in Streets of Atlanta, Georgia you could say Chiron has come full circle, taking on the role of his once father figure who took him under his wing. Yet its all a facade that takes one phone call and two visits to his mother and Kevin.
The last third sees everything come to a close, making sense of what has just happened, he’s come so far yet has not developed emotionally to have a romantic relationship, too insecure, too damaged by his past and his position prevents him from being truly happy. Very different to Seb (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) who made personal sacrifices to fulfill the creative ambitions, their dreams come true at great cost to each other. In Miami and Georgia reality is against Chiron, his economic, family, social and sexual background are not in his favor. Its a much richer, human drama that wipes the floor with La La Land, which is a completely different film.
Now does this show a change in Oscar voting and ultimately American films, or is it simply a fluke that 3 Black films had prominent nominations in multiple catergories. For me, its a good start to see a much more varied mix of films to enjoy and celebrate, different stories to tell and share with audiences. It’s really too early to tell if this progress is here to stay or just simply lip service, lets hope this year sees more progress, more diversity whilst still exciting stories to
I went into this film with the idea that Gravity (2013) was still the worthy winner of the best picture Oscar this year. That was soon thrown out of the window with 12 Years a Slave (2013) the third Steve McQueen film, which I was at first unsure about, thinking it would be of no interest to me, too brutal for my taste. I thought with all the conversations going on, it would be a crime to not see this unflinching piece of film-making.
Talk of the lingering camera style having disappeared are wrong, instead it has been worked into this more flowing narrative that begins as a series of flashback from one life as a free man for Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is stolen from him as he is kidnapped into a life of slavery, under the control of the white-man, who was once his equal.
It’s hard not to ignore and try to compare this to Django Unchained (2012) which also dealt with slavery, more so as an exploitation. It brought forward the subject into our consciousness. There is no real comparison, we see the struggle and pain of the oppressed black people, but more so the fear which drives the revenge of the film for the hero. 12 Years a Slave is a survival story above all else amongst all the pain and suffering which an educated African-American has to go through.
Beginning his 12 years on the plantation of Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) a compassionate slaver owner who can see there is more to Platt (the slave name for Northup), treating him as best he can under the circumstances. Whilst others such who have been split up from their families suffer on. However the first few months of slavery for the educated man don’t come easy, acting illiterate is one thing, not fighting back is another when it comes to one of the masters Tibeats (Paul Dano) who comes to almost enjoy delivering out the pain to the slaves under his control.
Moving onto another plantation under a new stricter owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) whose relationship with his slaves is one of owner and property, leaning to a dark pleasure in delivering out acts of cruelties to the slaves that lie in fear. More so for Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) who is the object of his desires, even with a wife who knows what is going on, having her own view on how to treat the slaves. There is a sense of what could happen in the future concerning the owner slave relationship. Which goes further in Brad Pitt‘s small role of Bass an enlightened Carpenter from Canada who freely speaks his mind which puts Epps very much on edge with these radical ideas from the North. This however appeals to Platt/Northup who is working with the carpenter. He fears opening up, by this point having been a slave for at least 10 years. Bass is the light at the end of the tunnel. Something that we discover was rare in the height of the slave trade era.
For a film of this length, every frame is warranted, every scene of brutality is rightly hard to look at, making you flinch with the sounds of pain that come out of the screen at you. It’s rightly hard to watch, it shouldn’t be any other way. The countries of the western world who have a slave history should watch and be aware. Making a modern audience who maybe unaware loose that ignorance, this account did happen.
McQueen has grown as a director combining his style with this very dark subject which for years has never really been dealt with outside a political and historical context. I was aware of slavery at primary school from images of men lined on the deck of a ship, filling it from one point to the other. It was a frightening thought, something that you cannot really process fully. The cast is all on top form, however big or small their part, such as Pitt who has a handful of scenes. Alongside Fassbender who is fast becoming McQueen’s go to actor. But it’s Ejiofor who delivers a powerful performance who stays strong throughout it all. An independent free man who is broken through the years of slavery still remains hopeful of escape. There’s a sense of dignity in how he carries on through all his character is put through. There are no stereotypes at all, just a rich southern accent, none of the slaves are mocked, instead they are intelligent people, unlike African-Americans were earlier depicted in cinema. There is however a distinction between a black man and a n***** in the first hour which does fade overtime.
That’s a small point to make when you look at the film as a whole. Which in terms of Oscars has a strong chance of at least bagging Best Picture, with all the competition from the other films and performers. There is a strong desire for DiCaprio to pick up a best actor, much over due, it’s a political game. The subject matter may push them away, or will they stand up and acknowledge the films merits individually. On its own it’s a film not to be ignored.
- 12 Years a Slave (ilikedthatfilm.wordpress.com)
- Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave (2013) (tallglassoffilm.wordpress.com)
- 12 Years a Slave – Book Review (thepoplartree.wordpress.com)
- 12 Years a Slave – Movie Review (lucasfothergill.wordpress.com)
- 12 Years a Slave – My Thoughts (cwemancipation.wordpress.com)