Everything was going according to plan. The winners were lining up with predictions, the speeches were political and Jimmy Kimmel was making Matt Damon jokes. Then, as the Best Picture was about to be announced, the man handing out the envelopes to presenters made a grave mistake. He gave Warren Beatty the wrong one.
After some awkward shuffling on Beatty’s part, co-presenter Faye Dunaway took his discomfort as a joke and read the film on the card aloud. She announced the winner was “La La Land,” to no one’s surprise. The night seemed to be all too predictable, but as one of the film’s producers made his acceptance speech, another stepped in front of the mic and announced there was something wrong. “Moonlight” was the true winner.
The flub was monumental, the only misreading in Oscar history, and it made the film’s win all the more surprising. “Moonlight’s” win stands as major breakthrough for diversity in Hollywood. Shot on a budget of $1.5 million by an almost entirely black cast and crew, the film’s surprise victory stands as a testament to the power of diverse filmmaking, no matter the barrier.
Besides “Moonlight’s” upset, the night went mostly as expected. All four major acting awards went to their expected winners, with the highlights coming in the supporting categories, where Viola Davis made one of the most memorable acceptance speeches in Oscar history and Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim in history to win an Oscar. As if that wasn’t enough of a political statement, the Best Foreign Film surprisingly went to Asghar Farhadi for “The Salesman,” another Muslim. Affected by President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban along with much of his friends and family, Farhadi’s absentee speech made a powerful statement about the importance of art across all cultures, blasting the ban.
Not all the conversation around the Academy’s choices for awards was praise, however. Controversy arose from Casey Affleck’s win for Best Actor, as his past history of accusations of sexual harassment regained heavy attention recently. Many felt, despite his acclaimed performance, that rewarding him was a further sign of the Academy’s further disregard for women in Hollywood.
While it wasn’t an entirely entertaining or notable night, the wins for diversity and the night’s final surprise turned a rote year into one of the most memorable Oscars in history. Hopefully next year’s round of films will provide an awards season that’s just as exciting.