This year’s Best Picture winner is Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. Let’s get that clear, the Academy voted for the $1.5 million A24 movie about the difficulties faced by a young boy of color growing up and dealing with his own sexuality. The Hollywood sweetheart La La Land, did not win.
And yet, when we remember this year’s Oscars, Moonlight and La La Land are now spoken about in tandem, like two estranged but inextricably conjoined twins. This is down to the biggest mistake in Oscars history, where for a whole two minutes and 43 seconds, La La Land was crowned Best Picture.
The story of the mistake that stole the show
Let’s just break it down briefly before moving on. After La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz’ speech [at 1:52], the panic kicks in. Fred Berger has clocked it. At 2:05, a stage manager runs across the stage. You know something is going wrong. At 2:07, while Marc Platt assures the world of repression being the enemy, another stagehand comes on behind him and opens the real envelope. 2:19, Fred Berger is urged to start speaking, and he says an audible “no” and yet begins his thanks to friends and family anyway — before casually dropping a sharp “we lost by the way”.
Once the mistake was corrected by the ever graceful Horowitz, there was so much chaos on stage that Moonlight‘s winning moment was somewhat tampered with. Instead of savoring the reasons that it won, the Moonlight crew instead geared their speeches towards pure disbelief that it was even possible. Not even because of all the reasons that it is groundbreaking, but just because of the monumental error that threw everything up in the air.
Host Jimmy Kimmel’s closing words did not congratulate the groundbreaking Best Picture winner, rather they focused on the comedic value in the mix-up, that would allow the birth of the best memes of 2017, hands down:
“Well I don’t know what happened. I blame myself for this. Let’s remember it’s just an awards show, we hate to see people disappointed, but the good news is we got to see some extra speeches, we have some great movies. I knew I would screw this show up I really did.”
“Some extra speeches”? Really? It’s better to hear everyone say thank you rather than give the spotlight to the film that represents those who have never got it before? This Best Picture win has so much more weight than its potential historical impact on the Academy’s admin system. Replacing Moonlight-specific epithets with ‘mix-up’, ‘admin’, ‘PwC’, ‘Warren Beatty’ or even ‘La La Land‘ is to strip the award, and the film, of all that it should (and will, once the dust settles) represent.
An objectively groundbreaking win
Let’s start with the uncontestable records that a pure Moonlight win has broken: Joi McMillon (who co-edited the film with Nat Sanders) became the first woman of color to be nominated for an Oscar for Editing. Mahershala Ali is now the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar, for his supporting role as Juan.
Moonlight is now the first LGBTQ-themed film, first film with an all-black cast, and second-lowest grossing film domestically to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. So, yeah, whoever second or third place may have gone to, regardless of personal preference this is pretty big.
The weight of a film’s story is only felt by how well it is deployed. Moonlight also won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and where Denzel Washington’s Fences still feels attached to the stage despite its compelling story, Moonlight‘s story bursts onto the screen and consumes every inch of it.
The camera in Moonlight swirls and swells over its actors, making the option for Moonlight as a silent movie seeming pretty enticing. Its triptych structure gives bold portraits of Chiron at each of the vital stages of his life, in magnetic block colors and dizzying close-ups.
Although the script is clever and incredibly caring, the film’s music carries the underlying story to its emotional heights with a score that builds a theme for one boy going through three stages of self-discovery. You don’t need to be in Chiron’s shoes to feel the intensity of the skillful melodic line that speaks louder than a thousand lyrics ever could. Eat your heart out Justin Hurwitz.
12 Years A Slave represented a landmark in the representation of diversity onscreen when it won Best Picture in 2014, but last year’s awards were notable for stirring up the #OscarsSoWhite controversy.
Moonlight, although not yet solving all problems as one film in a pretty homogenous Hollywood sea, represents diversity — not in a historical, factual or condemning way, but in an emotional ode to a very specific cultural and ethnic group and it simply shows what it actually feels like.
The film doesn’t tell the story of a famous moment in history, nor does it shine a light on a forgotten famous face of the African American past. Its genius is in giving a platform to those who feel marginalized every day (here a young, Black, gay boy growing up and struggling with suffocating issues) and opening it up to an audience, that, although from a different environment, can still relate. How the tables have turned.
Director Barry Jenkins succeeds in creating cinematic magic, as the intensity of Chiron’s emotion and struggles feel completely universal in its pangs of suffocated love. Where The Notebook, Love Actually and even La La Land tell love stories that aim to reach out to viewers, the pictures painted in one color only can feel exclusive and unrelatable for audiences around the world.
Moonlight doesn’t ostracize anyone. I am not male, black, or gay. I do not know what it is like to grow up without a father, I don’t know what it’s like to have to deal with my own mother’s drug abuse. But the film that won Best Picture somehow managed to tell that story, a story that doesn’t belong to everyone, and won over the entire world. Be it for its expression on love, family, skin color, drugs, youth or identity, Moonlight speaks to everyone in one way or another.
The Academy has named it as 2016’s Best Picture because it has given the world the release it needs. And we should never forget that.
Originally published on Konbini