I guess you could call it a Freudian slip. Or a big mixup. Or a cliff-hanger, broadcast live on TV. Or just a Hollywood (happy) ending.
Oh, #OscarsSoWhite. In a happy but oh so unpredictable twist on the #GrammysSoWhite disappointment from earlier this month, when Beyoncé was denied, once again, both Record of the Year and Album of the Year awards for Lemonade, the latest Academy Awards have confirmed that the very best black talent can no longer be overlooked.
Even though La La Land was initially announced as the winner of the Best Picture Oscar, the La La crew was interrupted right in the middle of their celebration and Moonlight was eventually declared Best Picture. Jimmy Kimmel cracked a few very good jokes at the 89thAcademy Awards, but I bet the La La team didn’t think this eleventh hour correction was funny. For once, the US’ Black History Month seems to play tribute to African-American and African creativity.
Moonlight is a remarkable film, that rare cinematic moment that you keep remembering.
In what I consider to have been a very good year for filmmaking, I cannot think of a single movie that came even close to matching Moonlight’s emotional and visual charge. To be fair, soon after I saw the film in a downtown New York theatre last year, I became a bit of an evangelist for Moonlight. And by now, after showering it with so much praise all over the world, I may be considered slightly biased. For the past four months, I have been going around telling everyone that Moonlight is the best film I’ve seen since Blue is the Warmest Colour.
Moonlight is a remarkable film, that rare cinematic moment that you keep remembering, that you cannot help but to re-evaluate in light of your own life experiences and disappointments.
Ali was honoured with a Best Supporting Actor reward—the first for a Muslim.
And it wasn’t just the emotions hidden in the way Chiron’s coming of age story was told by director Barry Jenkins (who failed to win the Best Director award) and his co-conspirator, the playwright Tarrell Alvin McCraney. Or the way Chiron (aka Little aka Black) discovered he might be a ‘faggot’. Or the way the colourful disarray in Miami’s mostly black Liberty City neighbourhood was captured on saturated film. Or even the masterful performances by Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali, who found themselves on opposite ends of the crack cocaine game. (Ali was honoured with a Best Supporting Actor reward—the first for a Muslim. By the way, I loved how he thanked his wife and mentioned that their baby was born just four days ago.)
Moonlight is a masterpiece because of the ensemble feel, the team achievement, and also because of certain specific, unforgettable scenes. I cannot forget those scenes, and I’m glad the Academy didn’t either. I cannot forget the moment Naomie Harris’ character tells Chiron that ‘I ain’t feelin’ good. I need something to help me out.’ Nor the moment Naomie Harris tells Mahershala Ali’s sympathetic drug-dealing character that he ‘ain’t shit.’ I cannot forget the tension in the crescendo acting leading up to the dramatic moment when Chiron finds the courage to break a chair over a bully’s back. I cannot forget the dialogue that precedes that surprising kiss between two unsuspecting black teenagers.
I think La La will win for Best Picture, because they do that, meaning black people will get Best Actor nods.
Moonlight is cinema at its very best. That this masterpiece was deemed good enough to deserve a Best Picture nod may go a long way toward healing some race relations in America. At least that’s what the optimist in me thinks. (Right before I wrote this, I found out that Moonlight has been doing really well at the Box Office in Europe and also in Asia.) Still, prior to the Oscar event itself, and even though I knew that Moonlight deserved to win, I had a feeling the verdict would go the other way, that it would be all about La La Land. That is why I chose to conduct a straw poll yesterday afternoon.
My Somali-American poet friend Ladan Osman had an interesting take on my little prediction game. When I surveyed her a few hours before the ceremony, she texted back, writing ‘I think La La will win for Best Picture, because they do that, meaning black people will get Best Actor nods. But I think [Ruth] Negga may win an Oscar because the Loving story is historic, American, and though it’s about race trouble, Loving remains in conversation with whiteness. This is also a time people are interested in transcending civil rifts on basis of identity. Besides all this, Negga is a gifted and serious artist.’
I am happy to see that the lives of those ordinary Miami people who were portrayed in Moonlight were deemed important enough to be part of the big picture conversation.
Ladan was wrong. Wrong all the way. Ruth Negga lost out to Emma Stone in the Best Actress category, but in the category that really does matter, #OscarsSoWhite did show some compassion this year. Let’s not forget that the Academy also chose to reward Viola Davis, as Best Supporting Actress, on her third nomination, for her star turn in Denzel Washington’s Fences. When she accepted her Oscar, she was all tears. I enjoyed watching her when she cried, and I loved the way she spoke emotionally, for a bit too long, and the way she talked about ‘exhuming those bodies, exhuming those stories, and exalting the lives of those ordinary people.’
I am feeling really good right now, because I am happy to see that the lives of those ordinary Miami people who were portrayed in Moonlight–those crackheads and those outcasts and those regular black people–were deemed important enough to be part of the big picture conversation. Those black lives mattered a lot this year. Even in the Best Picture category, the truth is: black lives matter.