Advocates hail Moonlight victory
Top Oscar for gay-themed film groundbreaking, groups say
Advocacy groups and others were looking past the Oscar’s wrong-winner announcement and instead celebrating the win of Moonlight as a triumph for gay, bisexual and transgender people.
The coming-of-age story of a gay black youth in a poor Miami neighborhood was made on a minuscule budget for a movie — $1.5 million, director Barry Jenkins said backstage. It had a mostly black cast and was seen as the first gay-themed movie to win best picture in the 89-year history of the awards show.
There’s no point in wondering whether the flub that led to La La Land being incorrectly announced as best-picture winner would overshadow the Moonlight win, said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and chief executive officer of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
“I don’t think you can overshadow the Moonlight win,” she said in an interview, acknowledging that it was “a bit upsetting that it went down that way.”
What won out, she said, was not only a strong message of diversity and inclusivity but also “hopefully the bigger dream — that Hollywood recognizes this and continues to produce films like this, so that they are not the exception but the rule.”
“So often we’ve heard from Hollywood that writers aren’t writing about these things,” Ellis said. “So having a success at this level takes that narrative out.”
The reason for the film’s success, she said, was simple: “It reflects the world we live in today. Countless people can relate to it.”
Gil Robertson, president of the African-American Film Critics Association, said he awoke Monday morning simply “floating” over the Moonlight win.
“It’s definitely a sign that the tide has turned” in Hollywood, Robertson said. The most significant result, he said, is what it would signal to up-and-coming filmmakers.
“What’s cool for black filmmakers and filmmakers in general is that this lets them know that it’s possible,” he said. “It shows them, ‘Wow, I can do this too.’ That’s probably the biggest thing to come out of this.”
As for the mix-up, he said, “It was a mistake. Let’s just move on.”
That’s essentially what Jenkins said backstage, minutes after accepting the best-picture trophy. He noted that he had wanted to thank the studio, A24, for believing in and supporting the project throughout — but didn’t have time, given the chaos onstage.
“My whole acceptance speech was going to be in thanks to them, because it’s amazing to be Barry Jenkins right now, but it was not a year and a half ago for a guy who made a movie for $13,000 [in 2008] and hadn’t made a movie in seven years at that point,” he said. “And it’s unfortunate that things happened the way they did. But … we won best picture.”
He added that “the folks of La La Land were so gracious. I can’t imagine being in their position and having to do that.”
Oscar tabulators PricewaterhouseCoopers, in their 83rd year providing the service to the academy, later apologized in a statement and said it was investigating why presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway had been given the wrong envelope — a duplicate envelope for the best-actress category, which was won by Emma Stone for La La Land.
Director Damien Chazelle’s musical had been widely considered a shoo-in for best picture after netting a record-tying 14 nominations and a slew of earlier awards this season. The film still won six Oscars, including best director for Chazelle, who at 32 became the youngest ever to take the prize; best score; best original song, for “City of Stars”; and best actress, for Stone.
Moonlight triumphed in a year when the academy was under pressure to honor more diverse films after two consecutive years of no black actor nominees. Even before Moonlight won best picture, this year’s awards were much more diverse, with supporting acting wins for the film’s Mahershala Ali and for Viola Davis in Fences.
In Liberty City, the Miami community featured in Moonlight, Larry Anderson, who played the character of Antwon in the film, said Jenkins’ success had given him hope for his own future. Anderson, 17, is a junior at Miami Northwestern Senior High School.
“Knowing that he came from the same — not just Miami, but Liberty City, same Pork n’ Beans [housing project], Miami Northwestern [High School], and the same programs that I’ve been part of, it tells me I can achieve me in the same way as him,” Anderson said. “It does give me a special connection that he walked the same halls.”
Jeremy Kleiner (from left), Adele Romanski and Barry Jenkins, winners of the Academy Award for best picture for Moonlight, pose Sunday at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.