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Alex Hibbert and Mahershala Ali star in a scene from "Moonlight." The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/A24)

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NEW YORK (CNS) -- Considered as an exploration of the African-American experience in contemporary society, writer-director Barry Jenkins' powerfully understated drama "Moonlight" (A24) makes a compelling statement.

As the film chronicles three stages in the life of an inner-city Miami youth, however, aspects of its main character's personal story raise complications for viewers of faith.

As a bullied and withdrawn 10-year-old, burdened with a crack-addicted mother (Naomie Harris), Chiron (Alex Hibbert), derisively nicknamed Little, comes under the surprisingly positive influence of local drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali). Juan's gentle girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monae), becomes a more predictable mentor, taking on the role of a second mom.

One of the few other bright spots in Chiron's bleak existence is his friendship with schoolmate Kevin (Jaden Piner) who proves much more accepting of Chiron than the lad's other peers.

Reaching his teens, Chiron (now Ashton Sanders) falls for Kevin (now Jharrel Jerome). Although Kevin boasts (apparently truthfully) of his prowess with women, he willingly participates in a single sexual act with Chiron. But circumstances soon set them cruelly at odds with each other.

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