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Hollywood gave a standing ovation to an unlikely recipient last night, honoring the indie story of a young, gay Black man dealing with inner-city life, with a Best Picture Oscar.

By Nathan James

The film, which had an unusually low $1.6 million budget, starred Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, and Trevante Rhodes as writer/director Barry Jenkins‘ beleaguered Chiron, whose life in a housing project near Miami presents obstacles that complicate his struggle with sexuality, family issues, and bullying.

“I wanted to tell a story that’s been hidden for far too long,” Jenkins said of the picture,

“and in so doing, bring something real to the screen”.

In three acts, Jenkins tells the story of Chron’s life, as a young boy (Hibbert), teenager (Sanders), and young adult (Rhodes), through the filter of growing up as a “double minority”.

The movie wasn’t widely distributed, because of its perception as a “gay film”, a label that has similarly marked the works of other filmmakers, such as Patrik-Ian Polk and Kirk Shannon-Butts, but many reviewers nevertheless praised the story.

“It’s hypnotic as a performance piece, full of flawless portrayals of a kid figuring out who he is, not just in relation to other people, but in relation to himself,” wrote Tasha Robinson in an October post at Verge.com. “It’s rare to see such an internal film look and feel this big — in the cinematography, in the sprawl of its world, and in the instant acclaim that’s rightfully greeted it.”

The film navigates through tough issues, particularly the often hyper-masculine tropes frequently pervading Black social mores, but gets its message across without becoming melodramatic.

It’s affirming and provocative, things Hollywood observers say gave “Moonlight” the edge at the Oscars.

The film is based on the short play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue”, by Tarell Alvin McCraney, and on the big screen, Jenkins and the cast bring their roles to vivid life, including Mahershala Ali as streetwise drug dealer Juan, and Janelle Monae as Juan’s sympathetic girlfriend Theresa, who mentor and advise the childhood Chiron.

Although presenter Warren Beatty caused a commotion when he mistakenly announced a different nominee, “La La Land” as Best Picture, the oversight was quickly rectified, and “Moonlight” was confirmed to be the winner. “Very clearly, even in my dreams this could not be true,” an astonished Jenkins said. “But to hell with dreams, I’m done with it, cause this is true. Oh my goodness.”

“Moonlight” is still playing at selected US theaters.

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