Mahershala Ali, holding Alex R. Hibbert, in Moonlight.
David Bornfriend—A24/Everett Collection

There was nothing like Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight when it showed up in movie theaters in 2016, and there has been nothing quite like it since, a coming-of-age story—and a portrait of fledgling adult love and sexuality—rendered with such tenderness that it practically shimmered on the screen. Set in Miami and Atlanta, Jenkins’ movie—adapted from a short play by Tarell Alvin McCraney—plays out across the decades in the life of one man, portrayed at different ages by three actors: Alex Hibbert is the scrawny, bullied kid known as Little; Ashton Sanders is the reserved, watchful teenager, who at that point goes by his given name, Chiron; and Trevante Rhodes is Black, the bulked-up, closed-off adult who won’t let anyone mess with him. Little finds the attentive care he needs in an almost-father-figure, played by Mahershala Ali, who truly listens to him. As a grown man, he’ll reconnect with an old friend—now a short-order cook, another kind of caretaker—played by André Holland, who’s able to slip past his defenses. These performances, orchestrated so deftly by Jenkins, shifted common ideas about on-screen portrayal of Black masculinity. But they’re also just deeply moving by themselves, an incandescent reflection of all the things humans seek in one another, even when they believe they’re looking for nothing at all.

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