What If The Oscars Mix-Up Wasn’t a Mix-Up At All?
I swear to you. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I don’t wear tin foil on my head. I don’t read Info Wars. The Moon Landing was real. Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. The only false flag is the Chilean flag filling in for the Texas state flag as an emoji.
But I confess to this.
I have a hard time believing that the Academy Awards, one of the most scrutinized and carefully directed productions in all of entertainment, could screw up that egregiously on the last award of the night. The award that everyone stays up past their bedtime to see. The award that doesn’t have anymore envelopes to give out. That one. Not the Oscar for best sound editing or best screenplay.
The Academy Award for Best Picture. It was a fortuitous mistake for Moonlight, a film that almost no one actually saw. As it turns out, the Oscar Mistake was probably the greatest bit of advertising for a film that only grossed $22 million at the box office.
The paltry gross for a film like Moonlight underscores why it would make sense for the Academy to drum up some controversy to get everyone talking again about the granddaddy of awards shows. The Oscars had three major issues heading into Sunday night’s spectacle, and the Mix-Up may have solved all three concerns.
- Low ratings for the Oscars
The show itself has some major flaws. First of all, it’s way too long. The 2017 Academy Awards clocked in at close to four hours, and celebrates a group of films that many Americans never actually saw. In turn, the Oscars have lost ten million viewers over the last three years while celebrating films like The Artist and Moonlight. Fine films, to be sure, but asking people to sit through four hours worth of content for movies that most never saw is asking way too much.
Furthermore, the politics of the Oscars don’t help them at all. One of the major criticisms of conservatives have levied at the Academy Awards is the not-totally-unfair perception that Hollywood elites look down at Red State America. I’m not a Trump supporter or a conservative, but it’s hard to argue that political bias doesn’t exist when host Jimmy Kimmel is trying to troll the President into live Tweeting turning the telecast. It’s hard to attract an audience by insulting a large portion of viewers, and asking these same people to devote close to four hours to an homage of some admittedly obscure niche films.
The Mix-Up, however, solves a lot of these problems immediately. It created drama where none previously existed. It waited until the very end, just like a great movie, to surprise everyone with a twist ending. In many respects, it was riveting theater that created on-the-fly protagonists like the bewildered Warren Beatty who certainly looked like man with the wrong card, and antagonists like Faye Dunaway who never recognized what was wrong, and wanted to get the presentation over with, consequences be damned. It created a moral dilemma for La La Land who had to turn away something they never actually won, and it transformed Moonlight into a plucky underdog hero that overcame incredible odds to win.
None of these things happen if the Mix-Up doesn’t happen. If Warren Beatty gets the right card and reads “Moonlight,” most people turn off the TV and go to bed, barely remembering the film or the show. The Mix-Up created instant social media buzz, and created a moment that will be remembered for generations. Next year, whoever the host is, will unquestionably make Pricewaterhouse Cooper jokes, and many more will tune in to see if a humbled Hollywood can laugh at itself.
They may not be able to, but enough people will tune in next year as a result. In turn, the Mix-Up may have created enough lasting buzz to end the rating slide.
2. People Haven’t Been Talking About the Films, But They Are Now
In some respects, the Oscars have never really been about celebrating the best films. They’ve been about celebrating fashion, and the post-show discussion about who wore it best (or in some cases, the least.) They’ve been about the hosts. They’ve been about the acceptance speeches. But it’s not often that the post-show discussion actually focuses on the films themselves. Rarely does the public get up the next morning, and talk about the films that won, especially in recent years when many of the movies that won few actually saw.
The Mix-Up got people talking. It created a rivalry of sorts between La La Land and Moonlight. It got people talking about the merits of both films. It created camps like the way Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump had in 1995. La La Land and Moonlight are now forever linked in film lore. You cannot mention one, and not consider the other now.
Bird had Magic. The Beatles had The Stones. Nirvana had Pearl Jam. Now Moonlight has La La Land. It might be a contrived rivalry, but it exists now thanks to the Mix-Up. If it doesn’t happen, Moonlight might just be an obscure trivia question. Now it’s legendary thanks to an epic gaffe, and it gained a historic rival to boot.
3. The Mix-Up Created Needed Buzz (And Revenue) for Moonlight
It’s a dilemma that many artists struggle with. How great can your art really be if no one sees it? Moonlight garnered only $22 million at the box office when it won Best Picture. Simply put, a film like Moonlight puts Hollywood in an incredibly difficult spot, and it’s a spot that they seem to find themselves in more in recent years. When no one sees your best movie, your best product, it becomes difficult for the public to buy in and celebrate that achievement. At worst, the perception gained is that Hollywood is only interested in celebrating super, high-end niche films that the rest of flyover country doesn’t understand or is unwilling to see. Given the current political climate, and the fact that Moonlight is simultaneously the first entirely African-American cast, and the first LGBT film to win Best Picture, even by the most generous and liberal standards, it’s still very much a niche film to many.
Perhaps the biggest challenge that Hollywood faces right now when it comes to Oscar-quality films is simply this: How can you call something the best if hardly anyone saw it? Imagine if you made a magnificent painting or a brilliant sculpture. Critics could come from all around the world to see your work, and heap effusive praise upon it. But if no one else sees it, how can anyone really be sure of your greatness?
The Mix-Up solves this riddle for Moonlight, and may solve it for other films going forward too. The Mix-Up provided an advertising campaign that it could have never possibly received through its own advertising budget. It created massive buzz on social media, and that might not have happened if the right thing had occurred. In turn, it will soon become the go-to movie on pay-per-view, and will likely get a larger viewing again in the theaters. If the Mix-Up doesn’t happen, Moonlight likely gets relegated in the same way that films like The Artist did: It becomes an obscure trivia question that only film buffs seem to remember, but the general public always forgets.
Perhaps the Oscars screwed up. Maybe they did. Maybe Pricewaterhouse Cooper will clean house, and sack those responsible for one of the most infamous gaffes in entertainment history. But one thing is clear: Massive confusion during one of the most rehearsed shows in all of television solved a lot more problems for Hollywood than it created.
It’s almost like they planned it that way.