The 89th Academy Awards closed with an embarrassing gaffe and a surprise upset win by the low budget coming of age movie Moonlight.
The telecast began in a more or less conventional way with a peppy song and dance number by Justin Timberlake, whose song “Can’t Stop the Feeling” was nominated for Best Song. As the camera panned the A-list acting crowd, though, I was surprised at the lack of rhythm in a room full of performers.
There were the expected humorous digs at Donald Trump from Jimmy Kimmel, who was funny in a low key way. My favorite was when he tweeted the president with the message “Meryl says hi!” There were also many serious references to tolerance and inclusivity on the part of presenters and award accepters, including a protest statement by Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who had refused to come to the ceremony in protest over Trump’s travel ban.
Also as expected, the overrated La La Land began to clean up in the awards department, winning technical, writing, acting, and most importantly, directing Oscars. So it seemed inevitable when Warren Beatty, looking befuddled, fumbled with the envelope, and Faye Dunaway’s clear voice rang out, “La La Land.” The whole cast and crew, it seemed, trouped onstage to receive the golden trophy.
I was musing over the irony of the white producer, surrounded by mostly white actors and producers, rhapsodizing about inclusivity in the movies, when the unthinkable happened. Mid-sentence, Jordan Horowitz abruptly switched gears and told the producers of Moonlight that the Best Picture Oscar was theirs. I thought this was one of those self-important but slightly condescending attempts to honor a fellow movie-maker. But he was insistent and held up the Best Picture card for the camera to capture the word, “MOONLIGHT.” Apparently, someone picked up the Best Actress envelope, and it had been given to Beatty instead of the Best Picture envelope. I had never seen anything like it.
I have to hand it to Horowitz and the other La La Land folks. They were very gracious as they were replaced onstage by Barry Jenkins and the mostly black cast and crew of Moonlight. It surprised me that such a small movie about a controversial subject would be the favorite of Oscar voters. And although I haven’t yet seen the film, I’m glad La La Land, a sweet but unremarkable movie, did not sweep the Oscars this year.
There were other awkward aspects to the ceremony. Viola Davis gave an overwrought speech claiming artists are the only people to “celebrate what it means to live a life.” And Hollywood seems to have both a short memory and its own share of hypocrisy when you consider that Mel Gibson sat smugly in the audience, his anti-Semitic rants apparently forgiven and forgotten, and Casey Affleck, who settled a couple of sexual harassment suits against him in 2010, won for Best Actor.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Oscars spectacle. I love checking out the gowns, hairstyles, and personas of Hollywood stars. I like to see scenes from movies, and I always appreciate the solemn memorial to those in the movie business who passed away in the preceding year. I also think entertainment vehicles such as movies and television shows help marginalized groups attain acceptance in society. Actors and movie makers, themselves often from the fringes of society, do seem to understand the struggle for acceptance of differences from society’s norms.
Still, Hollywood’s elite could do with an occasional dose of humility and self-awareness. Maybe the big Best Picture gaffe will remind them that they too are only human.