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Thursday February 22nd 2024

Moonlight | 2016

Moonlight location: Jimmy's East Side Diner, Biscayne Boulevard, Miami
Moonlight location: Black visits the diner where Kevin works: Jimmy's East Side Diner, Biscayne Boulevard, Miami | Photograph: Google Maps

Surely only a cynic might suggest that the usually staid Academy's surprise decision to award (deservedly) Best Picture to Moonlight over odds-on crowd-pleaser La La Land was an effort to make up for the recent Brokeback Mountain and Carol snubs and avoid an #OscarsSoStraight controversy?

Based on the unproduced play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the ambitious drama covers three time periods in the life of black-American Chiron, with three different and equally astonishing actors taking on the lead role.

Young Chiron (Alex R Hibbert) grows up during the 1980s "war on drugs" with his single, crack addict mother Paula (Naomie Harris) in Liberty City, a tough neighbourhood west of I-95 a couple of miles north of downtown Miami. Relentlessly bullied, Chiron is given what little kindness and guidance he gets from the unexpected source of local drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe).

The toughness of existence is contrasted with the pastel colours of the Liberty Square complex, commonly referred to as the Pork‘n’Beans, one of the oldest public housing developments in the country, bounded north-south by NW62nd and NW 67th Streets, and east-west by NW12 and NW 15th Avenues.

Rescuing him from a pack of bullies, Juan takes the unspeaking Chiron for a bite at the Royal Castle, 2700 NW 79th Street at NW 27th Avenue, the last survivor of a once huge franchise, just to the northwest of Liberty Square.

The sea features throughout the film as a symbol of possibilities beyond the seemingly inevitable, with Juan teaching Chiron to swim at Virginia Key Beach, 4020 Virginia Beach Drive, Miami, FL 33149. The historically black beach is now a state park, with a trust dedicated to preserving natural wildlife and the beach’s endangered species.

The adolescent Chiron (Ashton Sanders) passes the time riding the Omni Loop of Miami’s Metromover, the free public transport system that opened in 1986 to service the Downtown, Brickell, Park West and Omni neighbourhoods. It’s the most successful of the three people movers in the US, the other two being the Jacksonville Skyway and the Detroit People Mover.

The school where Chiron finally snaps after taking years of abuse is Miramar High School, 3601 South Douglas Road, Miramar, quite a few miles to the north of Miami.

In the third act, toughened by experience, the grown-up macho Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) seems to be drifting into a life of criminality when he's prompted to re-establish contact with his school friend Kevin (André Holland), who's now running a diner in Miami’s MiMo (Miami Modern) district, east of his old neighbourhood toward the coast.

The old-school eaterie is Jimmy’s Eastside Diner, 7201 Biscayne Boulevard at NE 72nd Street, which was kept exactly as it was for the film.

Kevin invites Chiron back to his apartment, across Biscayne Bay just a block from the Miami Beach seafront, which is in the condo at 7445 Harding Avenue, south of 75th Street, North Miami Beach.