In a stunning upset, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight won Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards after La La Land was initially named the winner by presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. The epic flub led to pure pandaemonium inside the Dolby Theatre and widespread confusion on social media.
La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz had already given his acceptance speech and producer Marc Platt was in the middle of speaking when Academy officials stopped the show and declared Moonlight the true victor. Ever the gentleman, Horowitz kept it classy and invited the Moonlight team on stage as shock registered around the world.
While the Academy hasn’t issued an official response about the incident, it seems that Beatty and Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope — one trumpeting Emma Stone’s best actress win for La La Land. While Stone had her envelope in her hand when Best Picture was announced, Pricewaterhouse Cooper (the accounting firm that calculates the ballots) keeps a duplicate of each envelope, so human error was involved here.
Beatty was clearly confused, and demurred to Dunaway so she could make the mistake in front of millions. When the truth came to light, the Moonlight team rushed the stage as the team from La La Land awkwardly shuffled off — though they couldn’t have handled it more graciously in front of the cameras.
The surprise capped a whirlwind evening for La La Land, which won six awards but appeared vulnerable upon losing Best Editing to Hacksaw Ridge. Meanwhile, Moonlight seemed destined to surprise given the applause for Jenkins when he won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay.
La La Land took home Best Director (Damien Chazelle) and Best Actress (Emma Stone), as well as best cinematography, production design, original score and original song. All season long, it appeared to be the frontrunner, which as it turns out, can be a dangerous position. There was a clear backlash brewing over the last few weeks, though it was never clear how legitimate a threat it posed.
It turns out that five years after giving Best Picture to The Artist, the Academy wasn’t ready to anoint another love letter to Hollywood. La La Land may have had a timeless quality to it, but Moonlight was undeniably more timely. That urgency appears to have registered with Academy voters, who also honored supporting actor Mahershala Ali and the film’s adapted screenplay.
Elsewhere, Manchester by the Sea took home two Oscars, with Casey Affleck holding off a recent surge from Denzel Washington, and director Kenneth Lonergan winning Best Original Screenplay.
Despite mediocre reviews, two Warner Bros. tentpoles earned Oscars, with Suicide Squad winning for best hair and makeup, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them winning for its period costumes.
Lionsgate’s Hacksaw Ridge won a pair of awards, taking home Best Editing and Best Sound Mixing, while Paramount’s Arrival won Best Sound Editing.
As expected, ESPN’s 7.5-hour documentary O.J.: Made in America was named best documentary, and its director Ezra Edelman thanked the Academy for recognizing an unconventional submission, given the film’s run time and the fact that it debuted on television. Edelman, whose next film will be The Ballad of Richard Jewell starring Jonah Hill, also dedicated his Oscar win to O.J. Simpson’s alleged victims Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. It was a very class move for a director who has a very bright future ahead of him.
Disney had a great night, winning Best Animated Film with Zootopia and Best Visual Effects thanks to Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book.
Finally, Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman won the foreign language award. It’s impossible to say whether the film benefited from a surge of support following President Trump’s travel ban, but it’s safe to assume that at least played a role. Prior to the ban, Toni Erdmann had the most momentum, with A Man Called Ove a close second.
While the show ran smoothly for the most part, the envelope error cast a shadow over what should’ve been a triumphant moment for the Moonlight team, and Oscars producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd will no doubt be fielding plenty of questions in the coming days.
As tempting as it may be to speculate as to what really happened up on that stage, the bottom line is that Jenkins himself tweeted a photo of the Best Picture envelope, and there should be no question about the legitimacy of Moonlight’s win. It clearly struck a chord with voters this year.
Jeff Sneider | Editor in Chief