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