Underdog Moonlight takes best picture amid Oscar mix-up

The seats were filled at the Oscars on Sunday night. As many considered this year to be an extraordinary movie year, with a wide range of dark, fun, political, and engaging movies out in theatres. What many critics considered to be an Oscar-underdog Best Picture on Sunday night.

This win was well-deserved for the Moonlight cast, production, and crew. The film won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay for Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, and Best Supporting Actor, Mahershala Ali. Moonlight is the engrossing story of the inner city life of an African American boy named Chiron growing up in Miami, Florida. The plot follows his coming-of-age story as he struggles with issues surrounding poverty, race and sexuality. The film was incredibly well done, from the gripping plot line to the artistic cinematography as it depicted Chiron’s life through three major periods; childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, each of which is played by a different actor. Seeing him transition through life, within the unfortunate cycle of drug-related crime, was incredibly powerful. The music was effective and fitting for the varying time periods that the film detailed.

At first, the announcement of the award for Best Picture was blundered by Warren Beatty’s awkward and incorrect declaration that La La Land, the seemingly more conventional pick, had won, due to a clerical error with the envelopes. La La Land had 14 Oscar nominations this year and tied with Titanic for the most nominations in Oscar history. The film came out with a few, awards including Emma Stone as Best Actress, “City of Stars” for the best original song, and Damien Chazelle as Best Director.

After La La Land was announced, the cast of the musical approached the stage, beaming and celebrating. As La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz went on to give his thank-yous, the group on stage began to hum with confusion. Staff in headphones walked across the stage with purpose, whispering urgently to each other. After learning about the correction, Jordan Horowitz graciously offered the Oscar to Moonlight in their place, noting the mistake made in the announcement.

The host of the night, Jimmy Kimmel, ended the night with witty remarks about the show, “We had some great movies. I knew I would screw this show up, I really did,” said Kimmel. “Thank you for watching. I’m back to work tomorrow night on my regular show. I promise I’ll never come back. Good night.” His light-hearted commentary capped off the night with more smiles than not. 

This was an important moment for emerging actor Mahershala Ali. His previous work in the show House Of Cards was notable, but his work in Moonlight made him the first Muslim-American actor to take home an Oscar. In Moonlight, he played the role of the protagonist’s mentor. He helped him through the good times and the bad, but was still very involved with drugs and violence in the city. His performance was noteworthy, as he embodied his troubled character with grace and emotion.

Moonlight’s producer, Adele Romanski, hoped the movie would inspire “little black boys and brown girls and other folks watching at home who feel marginalized.” The Academy may also have hoped for exactly that. Not only was this film a fantastic artistic work, but it also serves as an incredibly important political piece. The film portrays the unfortunate and real circumstances of the prison pipeline of American inner cities in a beautiful, thoughtful, and artistic fashion. The film displays the sad and harsh realities that many children face today. Furthermore, the narrative sheds light on an infrequently discussed form of black masculinity not usually represented in film and visual media, as the protagonist struggles to come to terms with his homosexuality.

This win for Moonlight represents a shift in appreciation for independent cinema that the Academy has adopted in recent years. This is an incredibly important transition as it allows for a more equitable playing field in terms of the correlation between the amount of capital that films have and which productions get nominated. The Atlantic reported that of this year’s nine Best Picture nominees, Moonlight was the lowest-grossing movie, making $22 million since its release. It is therefore a meaningful political statement that  Moonlight will bring home the victory.  Not only was the piece an incredible work of art, but its overwhelming success points to the public desire for transformative and justice-provoking cinema in our current day and age.

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