Hollywood’s big, crazy night
By Zeke Trautenberg
For the minute it lasted, it was the coronation of a film tailor-made for Hollywood’s insatiable desire for self-affirmation. Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, the original outlaws of New Hollywood, announced that La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s twenty-first century musical, with its gauzy story of jazz, Hollywood, and the unwavering ambition of beautiful people, was the winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture.
It soon became apparent that something was awry. Another envelope was brought on stage and smiles turned to disbelief. A dazed La La Land producer informed the audience that Moonlight was the real winner. It was, as the critic Calum Marsh observed on Twitter, a moment straight out of the maudlin dreams of Chazelle’s film: “In true form, La La Land only won Best Picture in a fantasy moment shared between former lovers imagining wistfully what might have been.”
The stark differences between the empathetic and ambiguous Moonlight and the effervescent and tidy La La Land added to the shock. After the #OscarsSoWhite controversies of the past two years, the image of the largely white producers and cast of La La Land quickly exiting the stage, and making way for the largely black cast of Jenkin’s film resonated with cultural symbolism.
Still disconcerted, Barry Jenkins, the director of Moonlight, hoisted the golden statuette. “Very clearly, even in my dreams, this could not be true. But to hell with dreams — I’m done with it, because this is true. Oh, my goodness,” he remarked before a stunned audience. Despite Jenkins’ celebratory words, the circumstances of the victory were unfair to the cast and crew of Moonlight. They were deprived, through carelessness, of the chance to make the case for their film and fully exalt in the limelight.
I now hope that this challenging film about a gay black man coming of age in America, with its value affirmed by the Academy, will find an audience among the millions who see-sawed between delight and horror at this brief episode of Oscars madness.