A Nominee in the Moonlight – By ELIZABETH DAY February 5, 2017 9:00 p.m.


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Dress by Céline, at 870 Madison Ave.; 212-535-3703. Shoes by Mansur gavriel, at Mansurgavriel.com.

In another setting, you could imagine Naomie Harris as the perfect Girl Scout. Teachers doubtless would have said she had a good head on her shoulders. Over lunch in London, she drinks only sparkling water, having been a teetotaler for all of her 40 years. “I’m so Miss Control Freak,” she admits. “I could never imagine being drunk or losing control like that. That’s my worst nightmare.”

This makes her performance in Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight even more extraordinary. Harris plays Paula, the crack-addicted mother of Chiron, a bullied gay boy growing up in Liberty City, Miami.

She shows us Paula both as a woman trying to hold down a job and as someone in the grip of disease, the tendons in her neck straining as she screams at her son. She did plenty of research into crack addiction and worked with an accent coach over Skype. But first she had to let go of “a lot of judgment” about Paula. And to be convinced that this wasn’t going to be another portrayal of a black woman crushed by forces beyond her control.

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Blouse by Gucci, at 725 Fifth Ave.; 212-826-2600. Photo: Erik Madigan Heck

Harris has always been determined not to fall into stereotyping. Her back catalogue bears this out — she played the survivor of a viral apocalypse in Danny Boyle’s dystopian 28 Days Later, Winnie Mandela in the film adaptation of Long Walk to Freedom, and the wink-wink-nudge-nudge Eve Moneyp­enny to Daniel Craig’s 007 (Harris was the only Money­penny ever to be bestowed the privilege of a first name).

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