And, yes, that is of course a great thing.
Much has been said about last night’s 89th Annual Academy Awards, especially where the final few minutes are concerned. Yes, it was a legendary flub that will forever occupy the annals of film history, but it wasn’t the only notable event that occurred within the auditorium of the Dolby Theatre on Sunday night. Hell, in between the memes and the think pieces and the sleuthing that occupied so much of last night’s Oscar conversation, there was one bit of craziness that got lost in the shuffle.
Moonlight, a $1.5 million budgeted indie about the life of a gay, black gangster from Miami, won Best Picture. And yes, that is all kinds of nuts.
Last week, I published a piece entitled “Does La La Land Deserve To Win Best Picture?,” a three-way conversation between myself, Jared Russo, and Justin Powell. In the piece, I was the designated “La La Lover,” and wrote enthusiastically about how much I wanted the film to win the big prize. Coming from that position, you might think last night’s last minute switch-a-roo would come off as a bit of a bummer to me. But, instead, I was kind of overjoyed that Moonlight won Best Picture, and the key to my happiness was unlocked through the magic world plastered in this article’s headline.
Now, the diversity I am speaking of doesn’t just refer to the skin color of the the man holding the statue above although, obviously, that is a HUGE deal, and the importance of such a win should absolutely not be ignored. Even diving back further into the night, Viola Davis’ win for Best Supporting Actress was an empowering one, especially paired with Mahershala Ali’s earlier Best Supporting Actor win (the first Oscar given to a Muslim actor, by the way) for Moonlight. All of these things are super important, and helped make up what seems to be the most minority-friendly Academy Awards in a VERY long time.
But, in my mind, the diversity of this year’s Oscars wasn’t just tied to the ethnic make-up of the show’s big winners — it was also tied to the awards themselves. Going into the night, everyone sort of expected a La La Land sweep, in which the Oscar favorite would win almost all of the awards that it was nominated for. Hell, that’s what I ended up going with on my Oscar predictions ballot, and was pretty confidant about doing so. I just had a feeling that La La Land, nominated for so much, would prove to be a wrecking ball in the direction of every other nominee in its way. But that didn’t happen, and even as someone who had La La Land as their number one film of last year, I was DELIGHTED by that fact.
Because, as it became clear part way through the night, there was going to be a wide swath of films given awards during this year’s ceremony. Hell, for the longest time, no film had won more than one gold statue and, even when the multiple-awards started to pile up, I would argue there were no real “sweeps” to speak of. Sure, La La Land was no slouch (and still ended up winning the most amount of trophies for the night with a total Oscar count of 6), but did it end up winning Best Picture? Nope. Moonlight did.
And though Moonlight won trophies for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor, did it win for Best Supporting Actress too? Nope — that honor instead went to the aforementioned Viola Davis , who won for her exemplary performance in Fences. Fences was also nominated for Best Actor, but that trophy ended up being given not to Denzel Washington, but to Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea. Lucas Hedges could have ended up winning for Manchester too in the Best Supporting Actor field, but instead Mahershala took the price…and by this point, I hope you are getting the picture. What could have been another night of a single champion hogging the crown became what I believe the Oscars should always strive to be: a celebration of the previous year in film, with awards given out to a bunch of different, but all well deserving, nominees.
Which, I mean, is really the key: I don’t think there was an award given last night that I could possibly disagree with. Sure it would have been nice to see Kubo and the Two String win Best Animated Picture, but it’s not like Zootopia isn’t a great film either. Hacksaw Ridge might not be the Best Picture of the year or anything, but it’s sound design WAS second-to-none. And though the film was a bit of a disappointment, no one can claim that the costumes in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them didn’t look wonderful. Oscar voters might sometimes vote “straight ticket” for the film they liked the most, but that didn’t seem to be the case this year, and I would argue the awards are better off for it. No one was horribly shut out, and an undeserving film didn’t swoop in and dominate just because it was “Oscar bait.” In a weird way, all the best films of the year were represented in some way (minus a Hell or High Water or two.)
Which, yes, brings me back to the most talked about moment of last night’s ceremony. When producer Jordan Horowitz discovered that La La Land did not win Best Picture, he stepped up to the plate and awarded Moonlight the prize it deserved. There was no malice in his voice, or even bitterness for that matter. The exchange of the award was a gracious passing off, and though it sucks that such a horrible and awkward thing ended up happening, no one treated it as an injustice, or as an outrage. In fact, Horowitz tweet after the fact was congratulatory and sweet:
Humbled. And once again: congrats to Moonlight. A truly beautiful picture made by some even more beautiful people. https://t.co/sOP1K0EiwW
— Jordan Horowitz (@jehorowitz) February 27, 2017
As was Jenkin’s response to Horowitz after the big snapfu:
Jordan Horowitz. Wow. I'm slipping slowly into reflection, perspective. Much respect to that dude
— Barry Jenkins (@BarryJenkins) February 27, 2017
It’s easy to get caught up in the Oscar race, and to treat all these films as competitors in some sport. But, at the end of the day, art demands to be inclusive of everyone. The awards given to so many people of color last night certainly speaks to that but, in a smaller way, awards being spread out to so many of the nominees speaks to that as well. You don’t have to chose between Moonlight or La La Land, or Manchester by the Sea and Fences, or any of the other dozen films nominated for Academy Awards. All these films have “Best” things about them — so why not award them all? Personally, I’m glad last night’s Oscars did.
Hopefully next year, though, it won’t be so literal.