Can we stop saying La La Land almost beat Moonlight?
Exactly five years after Trayvon Martin was gunned down, a film about a queer, imperfect, possibly broken, black man won Best Picture at the Oscars. It should have felt monumental. It should have felt like the win we were waiting for. But instead, in what can only be explained as the worst example of dramatic irony, La La Land was wrongly declared the winner before the Oscar was rightfully assigned to Moonlight.
I felt a sequential flurry of emotions as millions of people tried to make sense of the situation as it unfolded in real time.
Heartbreak. Anger. Confusion. Disbelief. Amusement. Happiness.
I kept waiting for the overwhelming pride that I had reserved for this win. The feeling of undeniable progress I was sure would wash over me. The sheer elation. But it never came. Like everyone watching, I was too amused by the events of the last few minutes. I was thrilled for the win, but its big moment had passed.
It’s like ordering exactly what you’re craving at a restaurant but then the order gets handed to your friend who takes a small bite of it, realizes, and then passes it to you. Sure, it’s still exactly what you wanted but you didn’t get to experience it the way you had hoped. It doesn’t make your meal any less good, but it does make it a bit less special.
I’ve longed for black, queer characters who are allowed to exist outside stereotypes since before I knew what gay was. A film like Moonlight was all the recognition that a younger version of myself needed while scouring the internet for proof that there were others like me. This movie can be everything for a lot of queer kids of colour.
But, after fighting to be seen for so long, this win will forever be marked with an asterisk. Instead of this being the one where the Academy awarded the lowest budget film to date its highest accolade, it will forever be known as the Oscars with that massive fuck-up.
Even though we won, it feels like we were robbed. Can joy ever come without heartbreak or will disappointment always precede our victories?
Film reporters whipped into a fury as the news cycle was divided between those who turned the broadcast off after La La Land was announced best picture and those who sat through the awkward correction of the rightful titleholders.
History was made with Moonlight’s win. It has the lowest Best Picture budget to date at $1.5 million but it is also the first from a black writer-director to win the prestigious award. Instead of think pieces about the importance of this success, the current news cycle remained obsessed with the blunder and uncovering how this could have happened. It has missed the opportunity to put a spotlight on the underdog story.
Let’s be very clear here: contrary to what many articles have boldly claimed, La La Land did not “almost beat” Moonlight. An ode to white Hollywood came second to a love story of underrepresented narratives. To claim anything less is to erase the magnitude of a milestone that has long been desired.
There was no “almost.” There was a mistake. An unfortunate mistake that has overshadowed a historic win, but a mistake we have to move past if we are to rightfully acknowledge the social and narrative shift that has taken place with Moonlight’s victory.
“This goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender conforming, who don’t see themselves,” producer Tarell Alvin McCraney said in their acceptance speech. In all the white noise, you might have missed it. For those who have long been outcasted, this sentence, this shiny piece of gold that was handed down to an unlikely but all deserving story, means the world.
This stunning, poetic, aesthetically-captivating film, against all odds, won Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards. It’s an achievement we ought to remember because it’s one I’ll never forget.