This year’s Academy Awards was one for the books, but for a more important reason than I think most people realize.
Some things were “business as usual”: the nominees were all arguably worthy, there was a front-runner with the most nominations, and there were women in horrible, over-priced gowns. Though everyone had their favorites, I felt no matter who took the statue home, most of us would agree that merit had something to do with it. All my favorites didn’t win, but some did. Typical for a night at the Oscars.
But then the “Best Picture” snafu. Never before and, I’ll wager, never again. There have been explanations for how the wrong card got in their hands, but these don’t change the events that transpired, which will certainly go down in history. Warren Beatty knew something was wrong with the envelope in his hand; something was off. But his partner Fay Dunaway paid no attention to anything but the film title written and announced “La La Land”. So the “La La Land” crew came up and began to give acceptance speeches.
But things just kept getting odder. Behind the speakers, strange chatter began. Finally, “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz became clear about what had happened and—with unfathomable calm and conviction—announced an error had happened and that “Moonlight” was the Best Picture winner. The crowd was stunned. But Horowitz claimed it wasn't a joke and showed the correct envelope insert. Then the crowd jumped to its feet and the stunned “Moonlight” crew came on stage as the “La La Land” folks graciously, respectfully stepped down. And just when things couldn’t possibly get more interesting, we were blessed with what happened next.
“Moonlight” co-writer Tarell Alvin McCraney and director Barry Jenkins were understandably in a daze, but managed to concisely and eloquently say why the film and its recognition are so important right now; its tale of a gay, black protagonist proves an example (and, I'd argue, call) for representation, inclusion and fellowship of all people. McCraney said; “…this goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender conforming who don’t see themselves, we are trying to show you…” and Jenkins went further to clarify the timeliness in light of the current administration in Washington: “…for all you people out there who feel there is no mirror for you, that you feel your life is not reflected, the Academy has your back, the ACLU has your back, we have your back, and for the next four years we will not leave you alone, we will not forget you.”
So while the envelope snafu will be what the common throng will talk about and remember, the more worthy thing to take away from the evening is that courageous art which aims to represent, express, unite and/or move people is a vital and powerful force in broadening our understanding, our compassion and our humanity. This is what great movies can be about. This is the legacy of “Moonlight”. This is the greatest laurel of all.