Carlos Valladares’s review published on Letterboxd:
Y'know, I've held my tongue on Moonlight so far because I want to watch it again (taking notes) to specifically, REALLY describe why I felt so underwhelmed by it. Sprinkled with aesthetically cool images and velvety acting (an atypical representation of a crack-den mother in the third act), Moonlight remains mired in the clichés of Ghetto movies that I (a person who grew up in that environment) have come to be bored by and even despise (its narrative still relies upon the cello-weeping reunion of slavishly impoverished black boy and said crack-den-ma; the acting is at its most naturalistic here, and paradoxically at its most ideologically insidious). "Bourgeois", "lack of interiority," "safe", "typical", and "pseudo-progressive" were the words that kept pinging through my brain, with "keep quiet" being the loudest. It is not for you, I whispered for myself. You may be a person of color, but you aren't black, and you aren't gay, so best to give the time to those perspectives.
Well, I have. Perhaps I shouldn't think that way. Reading and listening to queer perspectives on the film, I've come to see that their thoughts and mine weren't so different. And those that find trouble with the film do so with aim, purpose, a centered-look on the film which is both convincing and informative.
Perhaps an essay soon—but in the meantime I'd like to point you to four excellent pieces of criticism on Moonlight: Hilton Als' New Yorker review (with the substance of being from a black queer perspective, and its subtle variances and nuances from the rest of the fawning praise); author Bret Easton Ellis' podcast (this, ESPECIALLY, is what made me want to write this mini-write-up); and black gay critic Armond White's twin skewers of it: in Out magazine and The National Review. Don't come at me with your cries of "How can you seriously cite Armond White?" Has anyone ever actually bothered to sit down and read the man, read what he's saying between the lines, try to grapple with what his criticism suggests? I don't care what the people think about Armond White; I don't even really get flustered by his brazen politics; I only care about what he writes about, the specifics he addresses, how he contextualizes films in a larger cultural context. When he generalizes today's America being nothing but liberal pie-in-the-sky prancing and catching Snow-Flakes on our tongues: 1.) he's not far from the truth, 2.) he still lands at some jaw-dropping universal insights, in spite of (or perhaps, because?) of his being ideologically positioned from the heavy-right. In this respect, there is no other more interesting critic than Mr. White, who, (as Miriam Bale so perceptively noted), though he positions himself against intersectionality in the "Moonlight" review, is unsurprisingly one of its most shining icons.
Tempered, critical responses to Moonlight are necessary today. Even though I am aware of the heavy weight the filmmakers and their accomplishment carry (the nonstop praises have placed upon Moonlight an unruly, heavy burden to maintain a crisp-perfect representation of color and queerness), we must respond to it as we would respond to any film which tries to further our consciousness: What is it doing? How do content AND form work to bolster the piece? And are we giving it too much credit for things which it simply cannot address within its 110-minute runtime?
A key line from Hilton Als' review:
" Directors such as Marlon Riggs and Isaac Julien explored gay black masculinity in the nineties, but they did so in essay-films, which allowed the audience a kind of built-in distance. Of course, no one in the nineties wanted to finance films about gay black men. Twenty years later, I still don’t know how Jenkins got this flick made. But he did. And it changes everything."
Indeed it does.