Oscars Chose Confrontation Over Escape

Feb. 27, 2017
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moonlight

The first sign that La La Land would not sweep Oscar night came early when it lost Best Costume to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. But who could have predicted the embarrassing climax: La La Land is announced for Best Picture—but wait! Wrong envelope! Nothing like that had ever happened at the Academy Awards, an annual event previously marred only by long-winded speeches and insipid production numbers but otherwise has always operated with the precision of an expensive machine.

More interesting than the mix-up is the fact of awarding top honors to Moonlight over La La Land. It’s a vote for confronting social problems over escaping them. The seers were stunned. It was supposed to be La La Land’s night.

I thought so too, but, as I pointed out in my Oscar preview, the Academy has seldom gone for comedies or musicals for Best Picture. While Academy members of 50 years ago might have been surprised by a film about an African-American boy growing up in poverty and with a complicated sexual orientation, dealing with drug trafficking, incarceration and fractured families, they would have understood the impulse behind giving Moonlight the prize. Best Pictures have often been about large, important topics, however defined by Hollywood’s elite.

As the dryly amusing host, Jimmy Kimmel, quipped: who’s talking about racism in Hollywood now that we have Trump in the White House [Tweet: Tweet: ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE SPOUTS OFF. SICK]. Never before have so many African Americans been nominated for an Oscar; and Moonlight’s victory over the inspiring but conventional Hollywood narrative of Hidden Figures indicates that Academy members aren’t a bunch of old clunkabunks but actually care about the advance of filmmaking itself.

La La Land didn’t do so bad, by the way As I predicted, Best Director didn’t go to the director of the Best Picture, but I had it backwards: La La’s Damien Chazelle took that trophy home, not Moonlight’s director Barry Jenkins. Along with Emma Stone as Best Actress, La La Land won several other prizes including Best Song for the lovely “City of Stars” by Milwaukee’s Justin Hurwitz, a onetime student at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.

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