On Steven Soderbergh’s show “The Knick,” André Holland gave a star-making performance: He played Dr. Algernon Edwards, a brilliant black surgeon who fought racism in 1900 New York. It’s the kind of turn that makes you want to see him in everything. Sure enough, he’s equally excellent in a smallish but crucial role in “Moonlight.” Unfolding over three time periods, Barry Jenkins’ acclaimed drama follows Chiron, a black boy from a low-income Miami neighborhood who grows into a bullied teen and then into hard, rough adult. We don’t see Holland till the last part: He plays Kevin, Chiron’s old friend, with whom he had an intimate experience as a teen. As an adult himself, Kevin has become wiser. When Kevin and Chiron (now played by Trevante Rhodes) reunite, their uneasy but hopeful conversation takes up most of the last half hour.
Holland talks to us about how “Moonlight” is more than a message movie, how rare it is to see black people thinking onscreen and how “The Knick” didn’t, after all, open every door to him.
I’m reluctant to say this is something every American can see, because I think it’s more complex than a mere issue movie. On the other hand, it would be great if every American saw this film and got to see people who are ignored and sometimes demonized by a lot of Americans.
Absolutely. It’s about marginalized people: black, poor, queer — people who’ve been pushed to the side. I love that this movie puts their story front and center. Barry does it in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s about that. It’s just about the human experience.
I found that by the third story, it becomes more about this person than a statement.
When I first read it, when I got to the third act, I was like, "Here it comes. Any minute [Chiron]’s going to become the thing we’ve all seen before." But it doesn’t do that. Barry just sits with these people. That’s the sign of an incredibly confident filmmaker: He has the courage to say, “For the next half hour, we’re just going to watch these two black men figure it out. Slowly, methodically, painfully, they’re going to figure it out." There’s no release valve; there’s no big fight where he says, “I really feel this!” or “The world should be like this!” There’s none of that. They’re just step by step, moment by moment trying to work through it.
The restaurant scene is great because it’s so open and unpredictable.
Because the characters don’t know what they’re going to do. I don’t think Kevin comes into it with a big agenda. I don’t think he picks up the phone and thinks, "I’m going to rekindle my relationship," or "I’m going to apologize.” He doesn’t know. He’s just making space for Chiron. As a result, Chiron is able to crawl out of himself a bit.