“And the winner is… La La Land!”
Poor Warren Beatty. Nominated for 14 Academy Awards with one win (Best Director for Reds in 1981) but it’s his role with Faye Dunaway as the presenter for the award of Best Picture at the 2017 Oscar ceremony which will be his legacy with the production… and it wasn’t even his mistake!
When Faye Dunaway read out the wrong card that she was wrongly given by a producer and wrongly awarded the award to Damien Chazelle’s hotly tipped musical La La Land, prompting a mass shuffle of producers to flood the stage (not too soon as they waited long enough for an entire cast and crew to make their way to NOT pick up an award) and correct the mistake. Even more bizarrely, no member of Academy Award production staff announced there had been a mistake and with Bonnie & Clyde standing there looking utterly bemused, it was down to La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz to announce, with an expression of massively suppressed exasperation on his face, that the winner was in fact, Moonlight.
It’s difficult to pinpoint what was the biggest surprise here. That a production as highly polished and produced as the Academy Awards could make such a sloppy mistake or that Moonlight won Best Picture, as The Academy has been criticised and ridiculed over the last 20 years for being viewed as out of touch and lacking a modern viewpoint so it was a surprise to see a piece of LGBTQ+ cinema with an African American cast be recognised with a nomination, let alone win it outright.
The story of a young African American male, shown at 3 different points in his life, a young boy, a teenager and an adult, and the various trials he has to endure (growing up in the middle of a drug epidemic in Miami, losing people close to him as a result of drug addiction and being tormented, bullied and physically assaulted for being gay)
The film features beautiful performances from Ashton Sanders, Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali, who picked up Best Supporting Actor award for his performance. The cinematography is absolutely stunning with Cinematographer James Laxton and Barry Jenkins, showcasing some fantastic lightwork.
Not only is the content of the film a choice for an Oscar recognition and its incredibly modest box office (Worldwide revenue of $63 million against a $4million budget), the competition that year was stellar, no, it was ridiculous. The other nominations may have won the award in other years.
The previously mentioned, and favourite to win, ‘La La Land’, the true story behind the female mathematicians who helped NASA and America win the space race against the USSR in ‘Hidden Figures’, Denis Villeneuve’s alien masterpiece ‘Arrival’, Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine-helmed modern Western ‘Hell or High Water’, Mel Gibson war epic ‘Hacksaw Ridge’, Casey Affleck’s Oscar-winning turn opposite the always wonderful Michelle Williams in the heartbreaking ‘Manchester By The Sea’ and Denzel Washington’s stage adaptation ‘Fences’.
So with the big money and star power of their competition, how did Moonlight win?
There are a number of theories. One of which is the Oscars love for an underdog story like Rocky or Slumdog Millionaire, but the film as a whole is an underdog. There is also reported voter fatigue for longstanding favourite and frontrunner La La Land. It had such a lot of acclaim, attention and devotion for such a long time, by the time the Oscars came around, people who didn’t like it REALLY didn’t like it and people who did like it started to question if it was that Oscar-winningly good.
Whilst they are credible and very probable explanations, I don’t think that the backlash against #OscarsSoWhite should be discounted. In the two previous years, the Academy had come under severe scrutiny and criticism for their nominations and the lack of diversity shown. With the inauguration of Donald Trump to the Presidential office, this would be seen as a perfect showing of them not only flaunting their liberal values in the face of Trump but also a demonstration that they were getting their own house in order.
Whilst this may be seen as a cynical view and possibly tokenistic to award Academy Awards to a coming-of-age movie about a young man struggling to suppress his sexuality and sexual awakening with an all-black cast, anyone who has seen Moonlight and appreciates fully just how beautiful it looks, knows that this cynicism is nothing more than a fabrication of intolerant minds accusing the Academy of “wokeness” and would rather have Amy Adams communicating with aliens or Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone dance their way to the big prize than watch it awarded to a story about a homosexual young man growing up in a drug-addled Florida.