Oscars: Amid Confusion, 'Moonlight' Named Best Picture in a Celebration of Diversity

While 'La La Land' took home six awards, it was denied the big prize on a night when both presenters and winners used the Academy Awards stage to offer a rebuke to President Trump.

As if to send a message to President Donald Trump and his bleak and dark vision of America, the 89th Oscars celebrated diversity and inclusiveness by naming Moonlight, director Barry Jenkins' sensitive treatment of one very particular black life, the best picture of the year on Sunday.

But Moonlight's win came amid the most unusual, confusing and dramatic final minutes in Oscar history.

Warren Beatty, joined by his Bonnie & Clyde co-star Faye Dunaway, were the final presenters as Beatty said of this year's nominees, "Our goal in politics is the same as our goal in art, and that's to get to the truth." He continued that this year's nominees "show us the increasing diversity in our community, and our respect for diversity and freedom all over the world." 

Beatty opened the envelope, read it, seemed to pause and stutter a bit, and then handed it to Dunaway, who announced "La La Land!" The crew behind the modern-day musical crowded the stage as its producers began to take turns expressing their thanks, when, following a burst of sudden activity, La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz said, "There's been a mistake. Moonlight, you won best picture."

Moonlight, which earlier in the evening picked up awards for supporting actor Mahershala Ali and its adapted screenplay by director Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, had won the big prize — just as it had the day before when the A24 release was also hailed as the year's best feature at the Film Independent Spirit Awards.

As the Moonlight team, including producers Adele Romanski and Plan B's Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, stepped forward, Jenkins exclaimed, "Even in my dreams, this could not be true." Earlier, in accepting the screenplay award, McCraney, upon whose semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue the film is based, had said, "This goes out to all of those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender-conforming [people] who don't see themselves." 

Until that final climactic moment, though, La La Land, which won six awards, appeared poised to dance off with the big prize. The show was well into its second half when what appeared to be a growing La La Land lovefest began as it won the award for production design, which was picked up by the husband-and-wife team of David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco. And though it lost the film editing award to Hacksaw Ridge's John Gilbert, La La Land got back on track when Linus Sandgren claimed the award for best cinematography. Momentum built as the film first picked up the award for best score, written by Justin Hurwitz, and then best song, "City of Stars," written by Hurwitz and lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, with Paul using the moment to say, "I was educated in public schools where arts and culture were valued."

Damien Chazelle, the youngest director ever to win the best directing Oscar, was up next. He concluded his thank-yous by acknowledging his girlfriend, Olivia Hamilton, saying, "This is a movie about love, and I was lucky enough to fall in love while making it." And the dance continued as Emma Stone, who plays the movie's hopeful young actress, was called to the stage to accept best actress honors. Holding her Oscar, she said, "I still have a lot of growing and learning and work to do, and this [award] is a really beautiful symbol to continue on that journey."

Moments earlier, best actor honors went to Casey Affleck for playing a grief-stricken man in Manchester by the Sea, which also earned writer-director Kenneth Lonergan the best original screenplay award.

Viola Davis earned a standing ovation when she picked up her expected Oscar as best supporting actress for Fences, in which she plays a long-suffering wife who both understands and challenges her husband. Brimming with emotion, the actress — who can now add an Oscar to a shelf that also holds a Tony and an Emmy — testified, "I became an artist and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life." And, among her thank-yous, she particularly praised Fences playwright August Wilson for exhuming and exalting ordinary people.

Moonlight's Ali was the first winner called to the podium as the proceedings got underway when he was named best supporting actor for his performance as a drug dealer who takes a troubled neighborhood boy under his wing. Paying tribute to his teachers, he said, "The thing they consistently told me, it wasn't about you, it's not about you, it's about those characters you are serving."

Attempting to set a tone for the evening, host Jimmy Kimmel facetiously claimed during his opening monologue that he wanted to bring the country together, but then offered a series of pointed barbs, reminding the room that some of those present would have the opportunity to give "a speech that the President of the United States will tweet about in all caps during his 5 a.m. bowel movement tomorrow morning." And he also trolled Trump by saluting Meryl Streep, whose Golden Globes address triggered a dismissive presidential tweet, by calling her an actress "who has stood the test of time for her many uninspiring and overrated performances."

Others took a more serious tack in addressing the current political climate.

In presenting the award for best animated feature, which went to Disney's Zootopia, actor Gael Garcia Bernal proclaimed, "As a Mexican, as a Latin American, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I'm against any kind of wall that wants to separate us."

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi chose not to attend once Trump issued an executive order attempting to block immigrants and visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries, but when his film The Salesman was named best foreign-language film, Iranian-American scientist Anousheh Ansari read a statement on his behalf in which he said, "My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of other nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans immigrants to the United States." 

When The White Helmets, which focuses on the volunteer rescue workers that comprise the Syrian Civil Defense, won for best documentary short, director Orlando von Einsiedel, noting that the war in Syria has gone on for six years, ask the audience to stand up and "remind them we all care this war ends as quickly as possible."

Even an award like best makeup and hairstyling, which went to the superhero movie Suicide Squad, provided a political moment as Alessandro Bertolazzi, one member of the winning team, exclaimed, "I come from Italy, and this is for all the immigrants."

The epic documentary O.J.: Made in America became the longest film ever to win an Oscar when it was crowned best documentary. Its director Ezra Edelman, after thanking the Academy for "acknowledging this unconventional film," went on to dedicate the doc to Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman and their families as well as "the victims of police violence, police brutality, racially motivated violence, criminal injustice. This is their story as well as Ron and Nicole's."

In other awards, Kevin O'Connell ended a record 20-nomination losing streak as, with his 21st nomination, he picked up the award for sound mixing for Hacksaw Ridge. He recalled how his late mother, who worked at the sound department at Fox, urged him to enter the business, and he concluded, "Mom, I know you're looking down on me tonight, so thank you." The award for sound editing was presented to Sylvain Bellemare, who conjured up the sounds of alien visitations in Arrival.

Colleen Atwood took home her fourth Oscar for her costume designs in the Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

The Pixar-produced Piper, about a sandpiper making its first foray into the ocean, was singled out as best animated short film, and Sing, about a school choir and one girl's efforts to have her voice heard, was chosen best live-action short film.

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