October 24, 1995
Los Angeles, California, United States
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Relative newcomer Ashton Sanders made an extraordinary debut as a young black teenager struggling with his sexuality in Barry Jenkins' critical hit "Moonlight" (2016). Born October 24, 1995 in Los Angeles, he was raised in the city of Carson and endured a childhood similar to that of his "Moonlight" role. Like Chiron, he was bullied by peers throughout elementary and middle school, and was raised by other individuals while his parents grappled with substance abuse issues. He found solace in performance at the Amazing Grace Conservatory, an arts program based in South Central Los Angeles, which convinced him to pursue acting as a career. Sanders made his screen debut at the age of 15 in "The Retrieval" (2013), an independent historical drama about a young African-American boy in the Civil War South who is sent to help capture a former slave that he befriended. He then logged a minor role in "Straight Outta Compton" before enrolling in DePaul University's esteemed theater program. While there, he received the script for "Moonlight," and was cast as the teenaged Chiron, who endures physical and emotional abuse from all corners of his life, including his mother (Naomie Harris) and the object of his affection (Jharrel Jerome). Sanders' performance was praised by critics, and earned numerous accolades, including two individual acting nominations from the Black Reel Awards and ensemble laurels from the Independent Spirit and Gotham Awards.