‘MOONLIGHT’ star Trevante Rhodes speaks to film’s truths

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trevante-rhodes-fftvPreston Barta // Editor

The exceptional film MOONLIGHT is a work of fiction, but it draws upon universal themes and the lives of its talent and filmmakers.

It’s the story of a quiet, introverted African-American boy named Chiron — played at different ages by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Dallas-raised Trevante Rhodes — growing up in a housing project in Miami’s Liberty City. Chiron’s sensitivity, sexuality and dark skin have left him vulnerable and constantly bullied by his peers during his upbringing.

The film is remarkably told through three chapters, each focusing on Chiron at a different stage in his life. Rhodes (WESTWORLD) is one of the three actors embodying Chiron. Even though he doesn’t appear until the final act, Rhodes carries the emotional weight of the film on his shoulders, showing the years of pain behind his character’s eyes.

MOONLIGHT demands to be seen. Not only does it shine a light on masculinity and sexual identity, but it’s a candid feature about black culture outside the walls of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement.

Trevante Rhodes

Trevante Rhodes

“To be quite honest, I feel like I’ve just been birthed, in a sense, of my understanding of the power of cinema,” Rhodes said when he stopped in Dallas during a promotional tour of the film. “MOONLIGHT was the start of all that for me. It’s the kind of film where you really have to be invested in for it to really hit you.”

MOONLIGHT meditates on many of the truths of growing up. One of the ways in which it spoke to Rhodes upon reading the script was its focus on bullying.

“I was walking home from preschool one day and there was this kid who scooped up a handful of gravel and chunked it at the back of my head,” Rhodes recalled. “I’m 26 years old and that happened when I was four. I suppose it was the start of me gradually fortifying myself to get to this person I am now.”

As a black kid, Rhodes said he felt the need to be that much stronger, smarter and more imposing to be equal. The moment that incident happened in Rhodes’ youth awakened this truth about how he had to be this physical being to garner respect.

“I’ve never really connected that until just now, but I really think this mentality I developed came from that moment in my life,” Rhodes said.

One of the film’s most powerful scenes takes place during the first segment. In this particular sequence, the young Chiron (Hibbert) is at the home of a drug dealer (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend (singer Janelle Monáe), who’ve been giving Chiron the guidance and comfort he hasn’t been getting at home. Bullies have been taunting him with a derogatory word, but Chiron doesn’t know what that word means.

“I grew up with my best friend going through this struggle of knowing who he was but not being able to verbalize it to me. There was a stint of life where he just didn’t talk to me because he didn’t know how to, and I didn’t know how to verbalize it to him,” Rhodes remembered. “I wish I would have had the moment of explanation like Chiron got during that part of the film, but it was a gradual thing that made me understand the levity of how people feel.”

You won’t find a more honest and profound depiction of love and life this year than MOONLIGHT. It’s a story that says so much without actually saying much of at all. It’s a subtle and authentic representation that captures our heart and soul.

MOONLIGHT opened regionally on Friday, and it can be seen at the Landmark Magnolia and the Angelika Film Center in Plano.

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About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.