My clock says 1:20 AM. By all means, I should be quite tired. Instead, I’m running on pure adrenaline because I just witnessed one of the most bonkers moments in the history of live broadcast television.
Let’s backtrack. The 89th Academy Awards, whether you agreed with the winners or not, were going fairly smoothly. And then, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, Hollywood’s original Bonnie and Clyde, came out to announce the most important award of the night: Best Picture. They listed all nominees, along with an extended montage clip from each one, and then, when the time came to announce a winner, there was a long pause. A dramatic pause. “Why the fuck are they doing this?” asked someone I was watching the ceremony with. It evoked memories of Ryan Seacrest’s shtick from Wednesday night American Idol shows. Don’t fucking do this to us, America collectively thought, regardless of which film each individual viewer wanted to prevail.
But even at his most toying, Ryan Seacrest never pulled a stunt like we were treated to last night. Not even American Idol, at its peak, gave us the drama of last night’s Oscars, with starring roles from Warren Beatty, a producer named Jordan Horowitz, and Moonlight‘s Barry Jenkins.
Horowitz’s reaction in that stunner of a ‘WHAT IN THE FUCK IS HAPPENING’ moment was quite brilliant and incredibly composed. This is a man who’s just been told he won the highest honor for the work that likely engulfed his life for the better part of the past few years; and still, when he realizes there’s been a mistake, and in front of millions of eyes, he owns it. “This isn’t a joke,” he said. “Moonlight. Best picture.”
And let’s lay off Warren Beatty here, too. Jimmy Kimmel playfully yelled at him during the broadcast, but Beatty offered his own version of what had happened. He seemed just as confused as everyone else. And as videotape shows—incredibly—Beatty was handed the wrong envelope.
Even Mahershala Ali, the night’s winner of the Best Supporting Actor award for his own part in Moonlight, was filled with emotion afterwards, and he too was all over the place. He recognized La La Land as a worthy winner, and wasn’t shocked to hear it’s name initially called. But when Horowitz called on the Moonlight team to come back up, as we all can attest, it was a strange moment. “I just didn’t want to go up there and take anything from anybody, you know?” Ali said after the show. “It’s very hard to feel joy in a moment like that.”
La La Land, to me, is a remarkable movie. It’s artistic, it tells a great story, and the music is very enjoyable. But Moonlight is even better. If ever a film merited the clichéd assessment of ‘a triumph,’ this is the one. A movie with an all-black cast, consisting of three distinct phases of a young man finding his own identity within himself, in three very different settings, is the kind of story that is not told often, but that needs to be told more. For Moonlight to walk away with three major awards, including Best Picture, is a major step forward; its influence on the industry should be significant. And the rollercoaster ride we were all taken on—during which we were told the historically less-groundbreaking film beat out the truly intrepid and revolutionary one, only to learn that it was the reverse—made that moment of reckoning all the more powerful. It was dramatic juxtaposition and a jarring reversal that demonstrated, pointedly, what we might all hope to see in film from now on.
What a night.
STILL SPEECHLESS pic.twitter.com/qe3NUDWAHM
— Barry Jenkins (@BandryBarry) February 27, 2017