Even for an industry built on drama, nobody saw that coming.
At the 89th Academy Awards, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway made a mistake. It wasn’t entirely their fault. But still — it was one helluva mistake.
They announced the Best Picture winner as “La La Land” — the heavy favorite to take Sunday’s top prize. But due to a shocking mix-up, it was revealed that “Moonlight” was the real winner.
In a stunning, awkward, confusing and unprecedented 30 seconds of live television, the cast, crew, and creators of “La La Land” gracefully left the stage, and the team behind “Moonlight” — equally as confounded — rose to take it.
“This is not a joke, ‘Moonlight’ has won best picture,” Jordan Horowitz, producer of “La La Land,” said. “I’m going to be really proud to hand this to my friends from ‘Moonlight.'”
As a stunned Barry Jenkins, the director of “Moonlight,” took the stage, he said, “Even in my dreams, this could not be true. But to hell with dreams, I’m done with it because this is true.”
The extraordinary reversal was doubly shocking because so many people expected “La La Land” to take Best Picture. The film, following the story of a struggling actress hellbent on reaching success, perfectly mirrors the film industry’s self-obsession. Featuring a predominantly white cast, it also painfully embodies Hollywood’s diversity problem.
So, when “La La Land” was first announced, many people hoping for another outcome felt their hearts sink. But in what felt like a last-minute, long-shot miracle, “Moonlight” — a movie that features a main character who is gay — was vindicated in a historic win for Best Picture.
This surprise outcome was all the more extraordinary for the fact that “Moonlight” is precisely the type of film that usually gets snubbed at the Oscars.
The story explores poverty, race, drug addiction, and sexuality, and many critics have argued the film is as important as it is compelling. It’s exceedingly rare when a Hollywood film gives a voice to the characters and storylines shown in “Moonlight.”
“[The film’s] inspiring to people — little black boys and brown girls and other folks watching at home who feel marginalized,” co-executive producer Adele Romanski said on stage.
In continuing the acceptance speech, Jenkins added, “There was a time when I thought this movie was impossible, because … I couldn’t bring it to fruition. I couldn’t bring myself to tell another story. Everybody behind me on this stage said, no, that is not acceptable.”
Sunday night, the world watched the kind of powerful, validating, surprising underdog victory that we only find believable in the movies — giving all of us hope that stories about empathy can triumph over escapism and that stories that give voice to diverse experiences can be recognized at the highest levels of our culture.