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Moonlight: Everything You Need to Know Before the Oscars

Moonlight: Everything You Need to Know Before the Oscars


Catch up with cast interviews, award speeches, and more. 

As the Oscars approach, anticipation is heavy for Moonlight, the indie drama about black gay sexuality that has turned into critical masterpiece. The film by Barry Jenkins is nominated for eight Academy Awards, including best picture. While competition is tight this year, the movie's success has certainly signaled to Hollywood that stories about marginalized groups can earn--and win--widespread acclaim.

Here are five things to know about Moonlight before the awards tonight.

The indie film was an instant hit with critics ...

Last fall, the New York Times's A.O. Scott wrote in his glowing review of Moonlight that "to know [protagonist] Chiron is a privilege." For The New Yorker, Hilton Als hailed the film's depiction of "the rush that comes when one black male body finds pleasure and something like liberation in another." After last year's #OscarsSoWhite, Moonlight appeared to film critics as both an important, whole work of art and a needed departure from what award-winning cinema had been for generations.

Related: Oscars 2017: The Blackening

... and audiences, too.

It's one thing for a movie to impress often cushy film critics. It's another to impress the American moviegoer. Moonlight managed to impress both, with the movie netting 2016's biggest per theater opening average.

The movie has taken home best-picture awards across the globe before heading to the Oscars.

The race to watch will be best picture, where Moonlight will face off with La La Land. However, one night doesn't have to define a work of art. Moonlight has picked up best-picture wins at awards shows and film festivals across the globe--even outpacing La La Land leading up to the Academy's big night.

The film is based on a play.

It's important to remember that great drama can begin anywhere--on the screen and on the stage. Turns out, Barry Jenkins based Moonlight on the 2003 play "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue" by Tarell Alvin McCraney. McCraney, who wrote the play after his mother died from AIDS-related complications, called the story "a circular map," an attempt to find himself and ground himself in his identity and story.

The cast are the definition of "woke."

Moonlight might be snatching up awards, but so is its cast. And this cast realizes all too well the impact of a film like Moonlight--especially in today's America. When Mahershala Ali won best male supporting role at the SAG Awards, he delivered an emotional speech touting his identity as a Muslim after President Donald Trump's notorious Muslim travel ban and noting how the film shows "what happens when we persecute people."

Janelle Monae lead a heart-stopping performance at last month's Women's March on Washington, gathering together the mothers of African-Americans who had been killed in 2016 and reciting the names of their children. Trevante Rhodes, for whom Moonlight is his breakout role, admit the effect he's seen the film have on audiences: "They'e never seen themselves put into a narrative on screen.... At the core of it all, you just want to something that makes someone else feel OK."

Related: A Moonlight Revolution: The Black Queer Experience Comes of Age in America

The 89th Academy Awards airs Sunday, 8:30 Eastern, on ABC.

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Michael Lambert