Moonlight, and the message we get from the unsettling Oscars 2017 Best Picture goof-up

Harish Iyer

Feb,28 2017 18:27 42 IST

The moon waxes and wanes and there are a zillion stories of mystic wonder associated with it.

Still from Moonlight

Still from Moonlight

When I checked online, I found 26 February was a new moon day. We Indians call it 'Amavasya'. New Moon Day in Hindu mythology is considered a day when evil spirits are stronger, which helps people who engage in black magic. There is also a school of thought that says these nights can be the best to convert negative energy into a positive force. The moonless night may have briefly taken away the light of the moon — but in a split second, somewhere over the rainbow in La La Land, the stellar bodies aligned themselves and let magical moonlight fall to earth.

Moonlight is a film that lost and won. Much like the struggles of the characters it depicts. Just like the moon wanes and waxes, the life of the character Chiron from Moonlight travels from dealing with homophobia at home and outside to finding full acceptance and love. And just like the struggles of millions of people who are different, the Oscar night too, took a walk from loss to victory. It was a historic moment when La La Land was announced the Best Picture by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty.

Faye and Warren had a moment of visible doubt on stage, until Faye announced La La Land's name.

The La La Land crew came up and gave their acceptance speeches. Suddenly, the stage manager came up on stage and there was an intense conversation happening in the background. The mistake dawned on everyone, and La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz announced that Moonlight was the actual winner.

And thus, the glory of winning the Oscar was taken away from Moonlight (although the La La Land group was very gracious about conceding the stage to the real winners).

While the inquiry has revealed that the PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant in charge of the envelopes may have handed over the incorrect one — a standard back-up envelope for the preceding category of Best Actress — to Warren Beatty in a moment of distraction (read the report here), I feel very bad for the Moonlight team being put in a spot like that.

Moonlight is a film about two kinds of discrimination its protagonist faces — for being LGBTIQ and Black. I could add a third, if we consider the discrimination faced by drug addicts. The Moonlight team's Best picture win — because of the goof-up — now looks like a consolation prize. And while the la La Land team graciously handed back their statuettes, I wish we didn't ave to celebrate people for showing basic human decency.

I also hope that people don’t take a cue from this incident and say that they are being heroic and kind-hearted by giving Black people a chance at glory. No one should need to step aside to give the economically, socially or physically disadvantaged a chance and then be made a hero for doing so. Also, we should not go overboard in blaming the privileged and labelling the whole clan as discriminatory for being privileged. We need to however, persevere towards building not just an equal society, but one that is equitable too.

In a very weird, convoluted way, the Oscar stage mimics the struggles of the LGBTIQ community, the Black community, the Latino community — every marginalised community, that non-White or non-right in the US. The prize for Moonlight is not a consolation prize, it is a reward for their pursuit of incredible talent. After the #OscarsSoWhite controversy last year, the recognition for Black artistes this year is not some sort of affirmative action, but a real effort in correcting the system such that talent is respected over prejudice.

Here is a heartfelt message from Emma Stone, and no, I don’t think she was covering up her loss of best picture here: She says, “I fu**ing love Moonlight” and that’s how awards should be, because you fu**ing love it for the talent and life it brings in. Not because of the colour of anyone's skin or the sexuality of the characters.