How much time is enough time? Is 5 minutes enough? 15? Ten? Half an hour? An hour? The full length of the film? Half? A quarter? Mahershala Ali may win an Oscar award for best supporting actor (in Moonlight) for a mere 15 minutes or so of acting work. Some argue that outstanding performances are deserving no matter what the duration. Others argue that limited time may always equate to an abbreviated and thus limited performance.
In law, we come to quickly understand that every case is case specific and unique. Inasmuch as this is true, and though courts take every case on a case-by-case basis, so too does the Academy, whose judges operate on a movie-by-movie basis. The reality of this debate is that fewer than 15-20 minutes of total screen time is not enough. It is not enough to earn an award unless the award is for a film short.
This criticism is intended in no way shape or form to subtract from Ali’s telltale performance. His portrayal of a father (himself forlorn) teaching a young man what it means to experience real family life for the first time is touching and moving. Ali always shows his not inconsiderable charm. In Moonlight he shows us not only his charm but also his compassion with a portion of love as a dessert. He shows us the ironies of life that plague us evermore. The role he accepted was a limited role, for a limited duration of time, and therefore it is memorable, but not sustainingly so when consideration for awards is the premise.
Ali deserves a great deal of praise and credit for making Moonlight a special movie. His depiction of a drug-dealing would-be father figure, role-model, and paternal hero all rolled into one, is almost astounding. But what it is not is enough to sidetrack the other nominees from winning the award because frankly they by necessity worked harder for a longer period of time and made a greater impact on their respective movies. Ali may lose because of the limitations inherent in his role, a role that I loved and will remember for years to come.