By: Shayne Benowitz
With eight Oscar nominations and a Golden Globe win for Best Picture Drama, ‘Moonlight’ is Miami’s movie masterpiece
With a Golden Globe win under its belt for Best Picture Drama, Moonlight has catapulted from indie darling to award season favorite with major Oscar buzz. It’s nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali who plays Juan. The tender, haunting, symphonic picture, set and filmed in Miami, is directed and written by Miami native Barry Jenkins, 37, based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, 36, also from Miami.
Both Jenkins and McCraney are from Liberty City where Moonlight’s tale is told. As the film unravels in three parts, it centers on Chiron, a young black man, raised in poverty inside the Liberty Square housing project, who also happens to be gay.
The coming of age movie sheds light on a side of Miami that most visitors never see. In the film, the city’s unmistakable lush green palm trees, bright sunshine, blue skies and turquoise waters illuminate characters whose stories so often go untold. “Moonlight is Miami’s first bona fide movie masterpiece,” writes Rene Rodriguez, film critic for the Miami Herald.
Here’s how to experience the Miami conjured in Moonlight by visiting locations where pivotal scenes were filmed
Chiron’s neighborhood – Liberty Square
Liberty City is located in the northwest stretches of Greater Miami and serves as the backdrop of Moonlight. Chiron and his mother Paula live in the Liberty Square housing project, which was built between 1934 and 1937 as the first public housing development in the American South under President Roosevelt’s New Deal. Miami’s black community migrated to Liberty City starting in the 1940s and ‘50s after being displaced from Overtown.
Other notable figures, in addition to Jenkins and McCraney, to rise from Liberty City include rappers Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew, Trina and Trick Daddy, NFL players Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson and Willis McGahee and pilot Barrington Irving who is the youngest person and first African American to fly solo around the world.
Juan & Chiron at the beach - Virginia Key Beach
One of the most visually dazzling scenes from the movie is when Juan, Chiron’s father figure, takes him to the beach and teaches him how to float. Juan, holding the boy in Miami’s glistening aquamarine water, is featured in the movie’s trailers and posters. In this scene, they’ve arrived at the beach in Virginia Key, just off Key Biscayne, and one of the most idyllic stretches of Miami’s shoreline. During this scene, Juan teaches Chiron a lesson in self-reliance. “At some point,” he says. “You gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. You can’t let anyone make that decision for you.”
Juan & Teresa’s House – 2851 Prairie Avenue
Juan and his partner Teresa take Chiron under their wings and the young boy often spends afternoons at their home located at 2851 Prairie Avenue on Miami Beach. This lush, residential neighborhood is just west of Collins Avenue in a section known as mid-beach where many of Miami’s most exciting new hotels have opened. Here, Chiron shares meals with Juan and Teresa and sometimes spends the night before returning him home to his mother in Liberty Square.
Kevin & Chiron at the beach at night – 21st / 22nd Street
One of the most pivotal scenes of the movie illuminates how Moonlight got its name. Chiron meets his friend Kevin on the beach at night underneath a full moon. He walks across the Beach Walk at 21st and 22nd Street in South Beach and sits on the sand with Kevin. This scene reveals the fledgling romance between the young men.
Kevin’s Restaurant - Jimmy’s Eastside Diner on Biscayne Boulevard
In the movie’s third part, an adult Chiron returns to Miami from Atlanta to reunite with Kevin after years without contact. He walks into Jimmy’s Eastside Diner on Biscayne Boulevard where Kevin works as a cook. It’s an old standby in a neighborhood near Little Haiti where many trendy restaurants are now popping up. Kevin makes Chiron a traditional Cuban steak dish on the griddle with black beans, rice and plantains.
Kevin’s Apartment – 7500 Ocean Terrace
When Kevin’s shift is over, Chiron comes with him to his apartment in North Beach at 7500 Ocean Terrace. The building is a prime example of Miami Modern architecture with its symmetry, open breezeways and catwalks amidst lush palms. This is a laidback neighborhood on Miami Beach with authentic Argintinean and Italian restaurants, as well as the North Beach Bandshell concert venue. The men make up for lost time and begin to understand the layers of their friendship after all these years.
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