For this week’s edition of City Paper Arts Club, arts editor Kayla Randall and multimedia editor Will Warren watched Moonlight, the lush, gorgeous story about identity, love, longing, and so many more emotions, centered on three acts in the life of a young black boy in Miami. Did we cry? Yes. Next, we’ll be discussing Ta-Nehisi Coates’ debut novel, The Water Dancer.

These arts club chat excerpts have been edited and condensed for clarity. For the full chat, subscribe to Washington City Podcast.

Kayla Randall: So Moonlight is this look at a single person, Chiron. He is a young black boy growing up in Miami, and the movie breaks his story into three parts. The first part when he is an adolescent, the second part when he is a teenager, and the third part when he is a grown man. It traverses through moments in his life. It’s all pulled together in this really beautiful narrative about identity and manhood and sexuality and life.

Will Warren: It’s a beautiful coming of age story.

KR: There’s so many coming of age stories, but this one is so unique. I feel like I’ve never seen a coming of age story quite like this, how Chiron’s life is painted with such specific detail. From the opening shots, you’re just in it: This is the place, and these are the people, and I know them, and here they are. Right away, everyone is really endearing. People are so human in this story; there’s no villains. Everyone is relatable in some way, everyone is understandable in some way—even the people who do things that are harmful to both Chiron and themselves. Overall, it’s this really, really human story. The cinematography is incredible, the direction is incredible. There’s a scene where Chiron is in the ocean and he’s being taught to swim by Juan, his neighborhood drug dealer but also his father figure. It’s the most beautiful scene I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness.

WW: It’s this one moment of beauty and love between this little kid and this guy who’s sort of taking him under his wing and happiness amid a lot of dark stuff that’s going on in Chiron’s life. His mom is struggling with drugs that Juan, the father figure, is selling her, so that’s a little complicated. He is being bullied a lot by other kids in the neighborhood because they think he might be gay. 

KR: Chiron doesn’t speak very much. What do you think about having a protagonist not really speak that much or be kind of nebulous? I personally was really moved by it and really fascinated by it.

WW: I was never ever wondering what was going on in Chiron’s mind, or wanting to understand him more, and I think that is definitely because the folks playing Chiron did such a good job, but [also] the way that the movie and Barry Jenkins linger on certain details or moments. It almost makes you feel like you’re inside Chiron’s mind. You know what he’s feeling because you’re literally there within it. I think every aspect of the movie feeds into that effect. It totally worked.

KR: Pretty much everything works here.

WW: Yeah, it’s kind of like a perfect movie.