Why ‘Moonlight’ deserves attention—and why it does not

The only thing that could have possibly overshadowed Suicide Squad’s win for Best Makeup and Hairstyling at the 2017 Academy Awards was a shocking mix-up in the Best Picture category. When Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty prepared to read the winner of the Best Picture Oscar, something seemed off—Beatty took just a little too long to announce the winner, and Dunaway didn’t appear to understand whatever confused cues he was trying to communicate to her. The awkwardness that ensued shortly afterward would become the highlight of this year’s ceremony and the unfortunately most memorable aspect of Moonlight’s extremely important Best Picture win.

They announced La La Land as the winners of Best Picture, but soon after the cast and crew arrived onstage to accept the award, security also arrived to whisper some bad news into their ears—Beatty and Dunaway had been handed the wrong envelope, and Moonlight was the real winner of Best Picture. The La La Land crew handled the mistake well, with producer Jordan Horowitz announcing that a mistake had been made and that Moonlight was the real winner, and the Moonlight group came onstage to accept the award. Meanwhile, Jimmy Kimmel cracked a few uncomfortable jokes in an attempt to ease the awkwardness of the situation.

Last year, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite criticized the Academy Awards for having nominated only white actors and actresses for the lead and supporting acting categories for two consecutive years. For Moonlight, a film primarily featuring both people of color and an LGBTQ+ protagonist, to have won Best Picture is a huge step in the right direction for the Oscars. The mistake bringing so much notoriety to its win, however, is somewhat alarming—if the correct envelope had been given to Dunaway and Beatty and La La Land had never been mistakenly handed an Oscar, would Moonlight’s win have received half the attention it is currently receiving due to the mistake?

Sadly, I don’t think it would have. Moonlight is still sharing its win with La La Land—which, by the way, is a film with a white protagonist presented as the only remaining lover of true jazz in Los Angeles. Jokes about the La La Land crew just deserving to keep the award may ease tension in the moment, but sorry, guys—no matter how gracefully you handle the uncomfortably public loss, it’s really not your Oscar. Moonlight’s win is still a step forward towards making the Academy Awards more inclusive of people of color and LGBTQ+ people, but its Oscar will always be remembered by the envelope error and the onslaught of memes that followed, not by the groundbreaking moment it actually was.

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