This year’s Oscars will always be remembered as the one during which the Best Picture award nearly went to the wrong film. But once we step past the monumental mess up on the Kodak stage, and the attendant conspiracy theories that swirled around all the swish post-event soirees, we can only applaud, because the Academy did the right thing this year.
In fact, Moonlight may be the most important win in Oscar history, because of its subject and timing. More than ever before, the creative community in the US needed to tell the rest of the world that they were going to celebrate and cherish the values that make great art great, that diversity and freedom go hand in hand, that you cannot divide the world on the basis of colour, nationalities, and ethnicities. The film that was meant to sweep the Oscars was La La Land, the musical starring the two most good-looking people in Hollywood, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Its songs and dances are good, and Stone, who won the Best Actress trophy, is a radiant stealer-of-hearts.
But this year, it had to be the heart-breaking Moonlight. By awarding it Best Picture, the Academy has placed the Black story at the heart of the nation’s narrative, and turned the spotlight on it in a never-before manner. A handful of Black actors brandishing the Oscar statue (Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor, Viola Davis Best Supporting Actor, and Barry Jenkins received the Best Film trophy, as a retraction) may not change the world. It may not make up for the persecution and violence the Blacks have had to face. But optics in this post-truth world is all: A visual with winning Black faces can be deeply transformative. It can tell the world that black lives matter.