Mahershala Ali stars as Juan in the critically acclaimed drama Moonlight. Ali sat down with uInterview to talk about the themes within the film, and how he resonates with his tough but caring character.


Moonlight is a coming of age story that follows the shy and withdrawn Chiron(Alex Hibbert) from childhood through adulthood on the streets of Miami. Juan is a crack dealer who one night takes in the bullied and abused Chiron. Their surrogate father-son relationship becomes complicated when Chiron discovers Juan sells crack to his abusive mother, Paula (Naomie Harris). Ali revealed that their relationship—and the movie overall—touches on themes of masculinity and sexuality, as Chiron notably struggles with the latter. “Juan is definitely a very masculine character, and I think Chiron, because of who he is, is that person who tends to get picked on, as he is what people don’t perceive to be masculine,” he said. “Juan, who is the most masculine character in the film, is someone who is lending a hand to someone who is considered effeminate, and is struggling to come to terms with his sexuality.” Ali admits that their relationship offers new perspectives not often see in popular film. “In some ways it kind of breaks down some walls and gives you some other viewpoints that we are not quite used to seeing.”

Ali in particular commented on how the characters all felt like “real people” making the drama in their lives all the more tense and palpable. “[He] reminded me of real experiences that I had in some ways,” he said. “The script was just so human and personal that whether—and I think this happens in seeing the film as well—it’s just something that really has the ability and capacity to impact you.” While the film deals with intense themes of drug-use and abuse, he commented on the inner positivity behind Chiron’s journey. “There’s a real sense of hope at the end of it, and I think that’s what I really responded to.”

The idea for the film, which is a film adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue came from McCraney and director Barry Jenkins’s personal connections to the atmosphere and characters within the play. While Ali did not name any specific personal connections to his character Juan, he too, said that he, “Reminded him of real experiences that he had in some ways.” Ultimately, the actor returned to singular description for both his character and the others that appear in the film: human.

Moonlight is currently screening in select theaters.

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