Let’s sa­vor the suc­cess of ‘Moon­light,’ de­spite the weird way it un­folded; News & Views

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - KELLY LAWLER Con­tribut­ing: An­drea Man­dell and Jaleesa Jones in Los An­ge­les

No one saw that coming. Not even the most ad­ven­tur­ous of Os­car pun­dits could have pre­dicted pre­sen­ters War­ren Beatty and Faye Du­n­away would walk on­stage with the wrong en­ve­lope and ac­ci­den­tally name La La Land best pic­ture, in­stead of ac­tual win­ner Moon­light.

What fol­lowed was chaotic. A crew mem­ber rushed on­stage to cor­rect the er­ror, but not be­fore

La La Land’s pro­duc­ers had be­gun thank­ing peo­ple. One of them, Jor­dan Horowitz, took to the mike to an­nounce the mis­take: “Sorry, guys, hold on. There’s a mis­take. Moon­light, you guys won best pic­ture. This is not a joke.” Beatty tried to ex­plain what hap­pened. Academy Awards host Jimmy Kim­mel jok­ingly ref­er­enced Steve Har­vey, who fa­mously an­nounced the wrong win­ner of the Miss Uni­verse pageant in 2015. Even­tu­ally, Moon

light’s stunned cast and crew made their way to the stage to de­liver ab­bre­vi­ated speeches.

It was his­toric, it was shock­ing, and it was great tele­vi­sion. But what it was not was a real cel­e­bra­tion of the achieve­ment of Moon­light. Even the film­mak­ers couldn’t revel in their big mo­ment.

“It’s hard to feel joy in a mo­ment like that, in front of (the

La La Land cast and crew),” star Ma­her­shala Ali, who won best sup­port­ing ac­tor for his role as a drug dealer and un­likely fa­ther fig­ure in the film, told re­porters back­stage.

“The last 20 min­utes of my life have been in­sane,” said di­rec­tor and writer Barry Jenk­ins. “I was speech­less when the re­sult was al­tered.”

The hub­bub of such a mon­u­men­tal mis­take on live tele­vi­sion might make it easy to for­get the things about Moon­light that helped cat­a­pult it to Hol­ly­wood’s high­est honor in the first place. But that would be a huge dis­ser­vice to the film.

“You know, one of the things that I hope doesn’t get over­shad­owed is this was a $1.5 mil­lion in­die film about a black, gay, poor man ... and that’s a very sig­nif­i­cant thing,” 13th di­rec­tor and best-doc­u­men­tary nom­i­nee Ava Du­Ver­nay said at the Gov­er­nors Ball shortly af­ter the shock­ing mo­ment. “I’m proud of them and I’m proud of the academy for hon­or­ing that.”

Moon­light is an in­cred­i­ble cin­e­matic achieve­ment that shouldn’t be over­shad­owed. The film man­ages to make its spe­cific story — about Ch­i­ron, a gay black man con­fronting his iden­tity as he grows up — seem uni­ver­sal. It asks ques­tions about iden­tity, love and fam­ily. With a script light on di­a­logue, so much of the film’s power comes from the sub­tle per­for­mances of the three ac­tors who por­tray the main char­ac­ter — Alex R. Hib­bert, Tre­vante Rhodes and Ash­ton San­ders — not to men­tion Ali’s evoca­tive per­for­mance in only a few scenes. The di­rec­tion and cine­matog­ra­phy en­velop view­ers in the world of the film, with its soft blue hues and ro­man­tic score.

For the Academy Awards, a win for Moon­light is a strong and hope­ful state­ment about the fu­ture when it comes to in­clu­sion in Hol­ly­wood. Moon­light is the first best-pic­ture win­ner to fea­ture a black cast. It’s the first win­ner to tell a story pri­mar­ily about black peo­ple that isn’t about racism, the civil rights move­ment or slav­ery. It is the first to have a gay pro­tag­o­nist.

But rather than fo­cus­ing on th­ese achieve­ments — as would have hap­pened had the an­nounce­ment gone as planned — me­dia cov­er­age mostly has fo­cused on how such an em­bar­rass­ing mis­take could hap­pen on such a big stage. La La Land’s Horowitz has been re­peat­edly praised for the grace with which he handed over the tro­phy and the mike to Moon­light. End­less “Dewey de­feats Tru­man” jokes have been made on so­cial me­dia.

The Oscars have gone through two years of #Os­carsSoWhite, when all act­ing nom­i­nees were white and most of the best-pic­ture nom­i­nees told white sto­ries.

Moon­light’s win doesn’t mean di­ver­sity in cin­ema is “fixed,” but it is a strong in­di­ca­tor that the academy is em­brac­ing sto­ries it has ig­nored in the past.

Eleven years ago, the or­ga­ni­za­tion awarded best pic­ture to

Crash over Broke­back Moun­tain, choos­ing a film that traf­ficked in racial stereo­types over a crit­i­cally ac­claimed ro­mance fea­tur­ing two gay men. This year, the more chal­leng­ing, more pro­gres­sive film won.


Moon­light di­rec­tor/co-writer Barry Jenk­ins ac­cepts the award for best pic­ture af­ter the confusion on stage was set­tled.


Kevin (Jhar­rel Jerome, left) and Ch­i­ron (Ash­ton San­ders) are best friends in the land­mark coming-of-age drama.

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