By Liz Reichart//A&E Editor
What is absolutely clear is that the 89th Academy Awards largely went off without a hitch or an upset, that is, until the final five minutes of the broadcast which were heard around the world. We now know that presenters for the category of Best Picture, Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, were handed a copy of the Best Actress envelope, which read “La La Land”. “I’m holding the envelope and the award, and I had just given my speech, and there are people on the stage with headsets and I thought, ‘That doesn’t seem right,’” Jordan Horowitz, a “La La Land” producer, recalled.
When it was revealed, after the entire cast of “La La Land” had made their way to the stage to accept the most coveted Oscar of the year, it was revealed by Horowitz to the crowd that the envelope actually read “Moonlight”.
A wave of perplexity, then separate wave of both elation and dejection rippled through the crowd gathered at the Academy Awards once the mix up was confirmed. Horowitz, Director Damien Chazelle, and the film’s stars Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling peacefully and graciously handed their Oscars to the cast of “Moonlight” as they ascended the stage to win Best Picture. For a show that many deemed within the first three hours as “stagnant” and “too boring”, the final category certainly made up for the lack of Awards show drama. Chase McNaughton, a sophomore at High Point University and a student film critic, said the mix up was just what the networks ordered. “The 89th Oscars ceremony last night was fun as always, but seemed very generic before the mix up. This has given this year’s ceremony a lot of notoriety and definitely something for the internet to go crazy over. So I am kind of happy that we got this hilarious mix up to look back and laugh at.”
Manning Franks, a junior at High Point University and a student film critic, watched the awards at the Film Club’s Oscar watching party and said that he was rooting for “La La Land” to sweep the awards. “There are few films that transcend past its time and can cement themselves as a modern classic,” said Franks. “”La La Land” did just that. By taking something as contrived and niche as a Golden Age Hollywood Musical, and creating a universal message that resonates with people from across age, race, gender, orientation, etc. Chazelle crafted a musical that honors and lovingly pay tribute to the concept of following your dreams. The joy he put into every detail shows.” Franks says that “La La Land” hit all of the right notes for him. “With music that makes you want to sing, cinematography that looks as if it has jumped out of a painting, editing that is kinetic and impactful, and a heart that champions those who seek their dreams. This film is why we go to the movies. It’s my favorite film of the year.”
The mix up came with mixed reactions. “When La La Land was first announced, I was ecstatic!” said Franks. “However, when Justin Horowitz showed the card and revealed the flub… my heart sank. I was happy for Moonlight: it was a the little movie that could with a $1.5 million budget, but the conditions on which it won were disheartening.”
“It does seem very strange that it had to be “La La Land” that got read off the card, since everyone thought the film was going to take the top prize home,” said McNaughton. “We all were nodding our heads until Justin Horowitz held up the real card.”
“Going into the Oscars, Moonlight had won no major guild award for picture or director outside of the Golden Globes for Drama, conversely, “La La Land” had been sweeping with wins from the Globes, DGA, PGA, BAFTA, and the Critic’s Choice Awards, so Moonlight taking Best Picture on night was not only shocking, but unprecedented”, said Franks as to why it seemed only natural that “La La Land” was declared the winner.
What perhaps makes this mix up the most heartbreaking is not that “La La Land” did not win, but that “Moonlight” did not get its much-deserved spotlight for such an emotive and important film. The film, directed by Barry Jenkins, follows the life of an African-American boy living in Florida who, over the course of his life, comes to terms with his homosexuality. While you escape the kind of story that “La La Land” tells, that being one of a straight white man and a straight white woman trying to make it big in Hollywood, “Moonlight” told a story of the marginalized, the untold stories of grappling with identity. “La La Land” was the film everyone wanted to escape into this past year, but “Moonlight” was the truth we needed to see. Because of this mix up, news outlets will report on the mix up, and not the significance of the piece of art that won the top award, and these stories will continue to be marginalized, which is the saddest reality of all. We have seen and will see a million “La La Land”-style films. “Moonlight” was raw and different, a quiet little film. These characteristics did not give it mass appeal, but the uniqueness of the truths it told gave “Moonlight” far more meaning.
Star of “Moonlight” Mahershala Ali graciously describes the tough moment his cast realized the mistake. “You know, “La La Land” has done so well and has resonated with so many people especially in this time when people need a sense of buoyancy in their life and need some hope and light. So that film has really impacted people sort of in a very different way than “Moonlight” so when their name was read I wasn’t really surprised. When I did see security people coming out on stage and their moment was being disrupted in some way I got really worried… I didn’t want to go up there and take something from somebody. It’s very hard to feel joy in a moment like that you know, but because somebody else — it’s in front of them, but I feel very fortunate for all of us to have walked away with the Best Picture award. It’s pretty remarkable.”
“Honestly, I just feel bad for everyone involved,” said Franks on the nature of the snafoo. “This simple mistake is going to distract from everything else on the night. Yet, the level of class each side had was great to see, doesn’t mean I’m still not saddened by the heartbreak these producers felt about giving back the award they thought they had won. By someone gave Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway the wrong envelope, that person insured their fate. Someone is getting fired.”