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With Moonlight, Miami finally gets a movie that shows its layers

“Where are you from?,” asks Juan, a tall, charismatic man wearing a do-rag and gold grills.

Chiron, a small meek boy quietly looks down, his body language and shy demeanor evoking a sense of sadness. “Liberty City,” he says softly.

Clotheslines hung with colorful t-shirts sway in the wind and young children run through abandoned buildings, more reminiscent of the Deep South than the urban metropolis we often see Miami represented as in art and pop culture.

Moonlight shows us a Miami many of us don’t ever see.

Based off a play by Miamian Tarell Alvin McCraney, Miami filmmaker Barry Jenkins’ latest movie chronicles the life of Chiron, a young black boy living in a housing project with his drug-addicted single mother who is struggling to understand his own sexuality and identity.

The movie doesn’t rely on typical stereotypes of queerness, blackness, drug addiction or even city life. It’s more authentic than that, sparking conversations we’re typically not having, in art or otherwise. On being poor, black, and queer. Being a black Cuban in Miami. How a drug dealer can be both a caretaker and a criminal. What it feels like to be trapped — both physically and emotionally.

And as complex as the characters are, so too is the depiction of Miami.

Spanning from Liberty City to Miami Beach, the sets were selected with a palpably local mastery. Of course, familiar spots like South Beach are featured. But among others you’ve got the Pork ‘n’ Beans public housing complex in Liberty City, the historically black Virginia Key Beach, the Metromover, and Jimmy’s East Side Diner. (I’m also pretty sure that some scenes were shot at my high school, which was also kind of cool to see.)

Miami’s typically depicted in art as something beautiful for it’s excess — in Moonlight, it’s beautiful in its normality.

There are moments for Miamians, but there are also moments that are more universal — the explorations of sexuality, identity, and masculinity.

The film made it’s debut at the Toronto Film Festival, and was screened at the Telluride and New York film festivals. It’s already been unanimously praised by movie critics across the board and it’s making its Miami debut on Oct. 15. The official release date is on Oct. 21. It’s one you shouldn’t miss.

We’ll be co-hosting a screening of Moonlight at O Cinema Wynwood on Friday, Oct. 28. You can buy tickets here. The movie will continue playing at O Cinema Wynwood.