Advocacy groups: Forget Oscars snafu, focus on ‘Moonlight’

February 27, 2017

Yes, the Great Mistake of Oscars 2017 made history in all the wrong kinds of ways. But a day later, advocacy groups and others overjoyed by the Cinderella win of “Moonlight” were saying, let’s forget the snafu and move on — because “Moonlight” made history in all the right kinds of ways. untitled

The coming-of-age story of a gay black youth in a poor Miami neighborhood was made on the tiniest of budgets — $1.5 million, said director Barry Jenkins backstage. It had a mostly black cast, and was seen as the first LGBT-themed movie to win best picture in the 89-year history of the awards show.

And so, there’s no point in wondering whether the spectacular mess-up that led to “La La Land” first being announced best picture winner — incorrectly — would overshadow the “Moonlight” win, said Sarah Kate Ellis, president & CEO of GLAAD, the LGBT advocacy group. “I don’t think you CAN overshadow the ‘Moonlight’ win,” she said in an interview, while acknowledging it was “a bit upsetting that it went down that way.”

What won out, she said, was not only a strong message of diversity and inclusivity, but “hopefully the bigger dream — that Hollywood recognizes this and continues to produce films like this, so that they are not the exception but the rule.”

“So often we’ve heard from Hollywood that writers aren’t writing about these things,” Ellis said. “So having a success at this level takes that narrative out.” The reason for the film’s success, she said, was simple: “It reflects the world we live in today. Countless people can relate to it.”

Gil Robertson, president of the African-American Film Critics Association, said he woke up on Monday morning simply “floating” over the “Moonlight” win.

“It’s definitely a sign that the tide has turned” in Hollywood, Robertson said. The most significant result, he said, is what it would signal to up-and-coming filmmakers.

“What’s cool for black filmmakers and filmmakers in general is that this lets them know that it’s possible,” he said. “It shows them, ‘Wow, I can do this too.’ That’s probably the biggest thing to come out of this.” As for the snafu, he said, “It was a mistake. Let’s just move on.”

That’s essentially what Jenkins said backstage, minutes after accepting the best picture trophy. He noted that he had wanted to thank the studio, A24, for believing in and supporting the project throughout — but didn’t have time, given the chaos onstage.

“My whole acceptance speech was going to be in thanks to them, because it’s amazing to be Barry Jenkins right now, but it was not a year and a half ago for a guy who made a movie for $13,000 and hadn’t made a movie in seven years at that point,” he said. “And it’s unfortunate that things happened the way they did. But hot damn, we won best picture.”

He added that “the folks of ‘La La Land’ were so gracious. I can’t imagine being in their position and having to do that.”

Oscar tabulators PwC, in their 83rd year providing the service to the academy, later apologized in a statement and were investigating why presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway had been given the wrong envelope — a duplicate envelope for the best actress category, which was won by Emma Stone for “La La Land.”

Director Damien Chazelle’s buoyant musical had been widely considered a shoo-in for best picture after netting a record-tying 14 nominations and a slew of earlier awards this season. The film still won six Oscars, including best director for Chazelle, at 32 became the youngest ever to take the prize, and for score, song (“City of Stars”) and actress to Stone.

“Is that the craziest Oscar moment of all time?” Stone said later of the mix-up. “Cool!”

It wasn’t the only gaffe at the ceremony. An Australian film producer’s photo was mistakenly included in the “In Memoriam” tribute. Jan Chapman’s photo was shown with the name of Janet Patterson, an Australian costume designer who died in 2015. The Academy didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“Moonlight” triumphed in a year when the academy was under pressure to honor more diverse films after two consecutive years of OscarsSoWhite, when no black actors were nominated. (Even before “Moonlight” won best picture, this year’s awards were much more diverse, with supporting acting wins for the film’s Mahershala Ali, and for Viola Davis in “Fences.”)

Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs had taken action to diversify the membership of the largely white, older and male film academy. “Tonight is proof that art has no borders, no single language and does not belong to a single faith,” Isaacs said on Sunday.

In Liberty City, the Miami community featured in “Moonlight,” Larry Anderson, who played the character of Antwon in the film, said Jenkins’ success had given him hope for his own future. Larry, 17, is a junior at Miami Northwestern Senior High School.

“Knowing that he came from the same — not just Miami, but Liberty City, same Pork n’ Beans (housing project), Miami Northwestern (High School) and the same programs that I’ve been part of, it tells me I can achieve me in the same way as him,” Larry said. “It does give me a special connection that he walked the same halls.”