Has there ever been a more inelegant way of finding out you’ve won the Oscar for Best Picture than the way the cast and crew of Moonlight found out tonight? A mishap saw La La Land being crowned winner by guest presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway and those who worked on that movie walk on stage, collect the trophies and begin their speeches before the mistake was corrected. You have to spare a thought for those involved in the film, but Moonlight always deserved to win out, however messy the victory was.
La La Land was always the favourite to take home the prize. It has struck a chord with many, likely because its story is so relatable. It follows two dreamers, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, striving to achieve their goals and there is part of them in all of us. But Moonlight tells a story that, in 2017, needs to be told, rather than giving us one that we can cosy up in.
Barry Jenkins’ victorious movie is for the most part quiet and unassuming, like its lead character Chiron. It shows him growing up in Liberty City, a suburb of Miami, with his crack-addicted mother (Naomie Harris), struggling through school as he’s bullied by his classmates. He finds unlikely sanctuary with drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Tracey (Janelle Monae), the latter of whom becomes a constant in his life as the movie shows him growing up over three different periods of his life. It’s also a movie that deals frankly and honestly with sexuality and the struggles that come with accepting yourself for who you really are, and aims to tell the story of a person whose story is often overlooked or pushed to the side.
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Moonlight is a film of huge emotion, but one that subtly works your feelings. It’s the kind of movie that leaves you in a daze when you walk out of the cinema – it affects your whole being, but you can’t quite put your finger on how or what particular part has left you feeling that way. It is a true masterclass in acting, from Harris, Ali and Monae all the way down to Alex Hibbert, who plays the youngest version of Chiron we see.
In her acceptance speech tonight for Best Supporting Actress, Viola Davis spoke of her desire to “exhume” stories. “The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition,” she said. “People who fell in love and lost. I became an artist—and thank God I did—because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.” Moonlight does just what she describes – it doesn’t so much bring uncelebrated people to life as put their lives on the big screen for us all to share a part of, to experience a tiny piece of, to help shape our perspective of others. In that way, it’s a film that can do far more for society than La La Land and makes it thoroughly deserving of the Best Picture award, in the end and always.