In a shocking twist, it was Moonlight that shone when it came time to announce the 2017 Academy Awards’ biggest honor — and not presumed front-runner La La Land. Barry Jenkins’ powerful coming-of-age story won Best Picture after La La Land was mistakenly named the night’s big winner by presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, who’d been handed the wrong envelope.
Damien Chazelle’s La La Land had been expected to win Best Picture — and came in with 14 nominations, tied for the most ever, to Moonlight‘s eight — but Moonlight ultimately walked away with the top prize.
Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, who immediately paid homage to La La Land, told a stunned audience during his acceptance speech: “It is true. It’s not fake.”
He continued, “There was a time when I thought this movie was impossible because I couldn’t bring it to fruition. … So I just want to thank everybody up here behind me, everybody out there in that room because we didn’t do this — you guys chose us. Thank you for the choice. I appreciate it. Much love.”
Jenkins’ co-executive producer Adele Romanski also said in the aftermath of the mix-up, “It’s so humbling to be standing up here with hopefully still the La La crew.”
She added, “I think I hope even more than that it’s inspiring to people — little black boys and brown girls and other folks watching at home who feel marginalized and take some inspiration from seeing this beautiful group of artists held by this amazing talent, my friend Barry Jenkins standing up on here on this stage accepting this top honor.”
Later, in the press room, Jenkins told reporters he was “speechless” amid the mix-up. “It made a very special feeling even more special, but not in a way I expected,” he said. “The last 20 minutes of my life have been insane. I don’t think my life could be changed any more dramatically!”
Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue and adapted for the screen by him and Jenkins, Moonlight unfolds over three chapters in the life of a young, gay black man growing up in a rough Miami neighborhood.
Chiron is played by three different actors over the course of the film (Alex R. Hibbert as a young boy, Ashton Sanders as a teen, and Trevante Rhodes as an adult), while the supporting cast includes Oscar nominee Naomie Harris as Chiron’s mother — who descends into drug addiction as the film progresses — and Ali a local dealer who becomes a father figure to the young Chiron.
“I think the beauty of making this film was the cast, the crew, all these elements come together to capture what the world is presenting us,” Jenkins told Entertainment Weekly in an interview last year.
“Simply put, it was the best thing I’ve ever read,” Ali also said in October of reading Moonlight‘s script for the first time. “These are all people we grew up with but never had their space on camera…I remember just being so moved by how specifically these characters were all drawn, how unique the story was, and feeling like I knew these people.”
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The 89th Annual Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, aired live from Los Angeles on ABC.
- With reporting by GABRIELLE OLYA