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Barry Jenkins’ coming-of-age drama beat out the category’s frontrunner La La Land, as well as Hidden Figures, Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Lion and Manchester by the Sea.
The award was given to Moonlight after presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway initially announced that La La Land had won best picture. As the film’s producers were making their acceptance speeches, producer Jordan Horowitz informed viewers that the category’s winner was actually Moonlight, and showed the card announcing the winner to the camera. Beatty then informed the stunned audience of the mix-up, as he and Dunaway had mistakenly been given — and read — the card for best actress, which was presented to La La Land‘s Emma Stone just minutes before.
“I hope that it’s inspiring to people, little black boys and brown girls and other folks watching at home who feel marginalized,” said producer Adele Romanski onstage, alongside fellow producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner. “Take some inspiration from seeing this beautiful group of artists helmed by this amazing talent [Jenkins].”
“There was a time when I thought this movie was impossible because I couldn’t bring it fruition, I couldn’t bring myself to tell another’s story. Everybody behind me on the stage said, ‘No, that’s not acceptable,’ ” added Jenkins, thanking the cast. (Watch the cast and crew of Moonlight accept the award here.)
The A24 release earned eight Oscar nominations, tying it with Arrival for second-most nominations on the night (La La Land led with 14). It also won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay, as well as for supporting actor Mahershala Ali.
Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, the intimate Moonlight looks at the life of a young black man growing up in a tough Miami neighborhood. The story is told in three chapters, each of which features a different actor as the central character at different ages. It’s a story to which writer-director Jenkins related because, like the character played by Oscar nominee Naomie Harris, his mother was previously addicted to crack cocaine.
“Instead of shooting her over the course of five weeks, we shot all her work in three days. So for three days I am just living in walking therapy,” he previously told The Hollywood Reporter. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do because I had to separate myself, the director, from myself the human being, reliving all these things that I’ve tried my hardest to not relive.”
The film began garnering critical acclaim upon its debut at the Telluride Film Festival, also for notable performances by supporting actors Ali and Harris. The drama won the top nod at the Golden Globes and swept the indie-lauding Spirit Awards. Shot for under $5 million, the film has grossed $22 million at the worldwide box office.
The 89th annual Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, took place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Sunday.
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