Working with director Barry Jenkins on “Moonlight” was the “best” career opportunity Mahershala Ali experienced in his life.
Starring Ali, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, and Trevante Rhodes, the film follows the life of a young black man named Chiron, as he navigates the world while trying to discover his identity after growing up in an impoverished neighborhood within the city of Miami.
During a video interview with Indiewire, Ali ― who portrays Chiron’s drug-dealing father figure Juan ― expressed how Jenkins’ approach to addressing masculinity in the black community resonated with him.
“When I read Barry’s script, you see somebody who’s a reflection of people you actually know,” Ali said. “It was refreshing and important, because now I felt I could give something to this character, this person is a real reflection of someone I know from these neighborhoods coming up.”
For Jenkins, it was difficult to work on the film ― which is based on the semi-autobiographical play of the same title by Tarell Alvin McCraney ― without examining black masculinity on the silver screen.
“It was hard to work on this film and not be aware that there was a void that it could potentially help address,” Jenkins said in an interview with Vice. “It’s an absolute fucking shame that I’ve never seen a film where one black man holds another black man’s hand, or one black man cooks for another black man, you know? We don’t see that often enough.”
In addition to exploring self-discovery, Ali added during his IndieWire interview how Jenkins’ nuances as a filmmaker were important in developing Chiron’s character.
“Barry is a director that explores silence. And that’s so important, because now you have an opportunity to explore the psychology of the characters, how they think and react,” Ali said. “People are not used to seeing these type of people think, you think they don’t have the capacity because you never see them do it … To see how it was written and directed — it’s so moving, so personal and intimate that we can all relate and root for this character.”
“Moonlight” is now playing in select theaters and expands to additional cities in the coming weeks. Check out more of Mahershala Ali’s IndieWire interview in the clip above.