‘Moonlight’ must mean more than the Academy’s errors

Our focus should be on film not controversy

Image: Reuters

Every year, all of Hollywood shows up to the Academy Awards, and every year some controversy rules the news the next day. However, the prominent mistake this year seems to be one of the biggest yet. On 26 February the Oscars played out as usual, until the notable moment when La La Land was announced as Best Picture, only to have its producer clarify that it was, in fact, Moonlight that had won. While there has been outrage among social media websites, many are questioning the significance of this mix-up in comparison to last year’s controversy. In contrast to the last two years of all-white nominees, the Oscars this year have both a diverse group of nominees and winners. However, the representation this year is being overlooked by many in favour of the drama over the Best Picture mix-up.

For those who watched the entire broadcast, it is evident that the underlying tone of the award’s ceremony was that of inclusion, acceptance, equality, and diversity. With comments and speeches not only being about the racial diversity shown in this year’s Oscars, but the current wider political and racial problems of the US. Many speeches given by the winners were characterised by criticism of Donald Trump’s administration and the treatment of women and immigration in his first two months in office.

Among the mix-up of the cards, the movie’s message was lost in the scandal of the mistake. Moonlight made history on the 26 February as the first all-black cast and first LGBTQ film to win Best Picture. Correspondingly, its individual crew members also set records as Joi McMillon became the first black female editor to be nominated for an Oscar, along with Mahershala Ali becoming the first Muslim to win an acting Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. These great milestones, and the clear resistance Hollywood has to intolerance, should have been the highlight of the night. These achievements, however, are not what you will see on the cover of most newspapers and magazines; instead a dozen play by plays of how the winner’s card was picked up on the wrong side of the stage.

From a marketing standpoint, the mistake seems to be working out in Moonlight’s favour. The mass media reaction is giving it free publicity while also drawing the attention of people who may not have heard of it before the Oscars debacle.

Originally, Moonlight did not have a wide theatrical release, with only a few limited screenings despite doing extremely well in ratings. The film is now seeing an increase in showings as it will be expanded to over 1500 locations throughout the US, as well as an increase in screenings internationally. This marks a success for what was a relatively unknown film before its nomination. Moonlight is a film about growing up and realising who you are. The messages of identity and sexuality throughout the movie emphasise the growing acceptance of representation of both LGBTQ and black characters in Hollywood cinema. This controversy demonstrates the willingness of the media to play on scandal and outrage rather than focus on the milestones for diversity in Hollywood. Instead of the dramatization of the mistake, a film like Moonlight should be praised and celebrated for what it means for the world’s largest film industry going forward.