Why Moonlight’s Oscar Win Matters

 

I initially decided to write about The Oscars mix up because I’m an aspiring Film Studies major and the title included the word ‘controversy.’ It may come as a surprise, but I did not watch The Oscars. I have never been fond of awards shows so I completely missed the event. However, I am interested in film and follow the culture, aside from the awards, pretty adamantly.

So, just in case a few readers are like me, I’ll explain what happened on the night of The Oscars before I get into why some people are calling it a ‘controversy’: Moonlight (Jenkins 2016) won the Oscar for Best Picture. But before this happened, announcers Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty read the wrong card and said that La La Land (Chazelle 2016) won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Why do people keep calling this a controversy? Isn’t this just a silly awards show? Coming from someone who doesn’t watch awards shows, yes but more importantly no. Sure, The Oscars pop up once a year, taking up about 95% of the length of the menu screen when you’re looking through the channels. Maybe it does seem like a huge, mildly comedic ego-fair.

But, behind the curtain of big Hollywood, sit actors like Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp, Duan Sanderson and directors like Barry Jenkins. People who have dedicated their lives and passions to the industry, to their art, to their message, to Moonlight. The Oscars turn into less of a show and more of a ceremony. These directors and actors deserve to be appreciated. They deserve to be awarded something for their work and their art. Having an Oscar is a benchmark in a director’s life. Imagine having that moment ripped from you.

All this happened and it happened in a mostly-white industry to an African American cast and crew and it is a controversy. Credit where credit’s do, La La Land is a spectacular film and deserves attention. (REMINDER: Moonlight is a spectacular film, won Best Picture and it didn’t get the attention it deserved.)

The way the announcers, the cast and crew of La La Land and Moonlight, and Jimmy Kimmel reacted to the whole affair fall all over the map from great to terrible. I’ll start with terrible: Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation like the kid at the birthday party who wants to blow out the birthday candles even though it is not their birthday. Kimmel made me cringe as he cracked jokes while the directors’ and actors’ emotions rode a metaphorical Tower of Terror. Warren Beatty struggled to explain why the mistake was purely innocent. The cast of La La Land and producer Jordan Horowitz handled the situation respectfully.

After giving nearly two minutes of speeches and celebrating they handed over the award to Moonlight’s director Barry Jenkins and his cast, who respectfully accepted the award in light of the mistake. Both crews stood on stage together and mingled.

While this mistake caused an uproar, it’s important to see how the people who were affected responded. And just in case anyone missed it, I want to say it again this is a big deal, this isn’t just a simple awards show mistake.

 

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