The most anticipated film awards of the year, the Oscars, have passed. And what came out of the 89th Academy Awards was inclusion, discourse and… memes. It would be impossible to discuss the ceremony without mentioning the disaster that was the Best Picture mix-up. For the first time in history, the wrong film was announced as having won the prestigious award, resulting in a confusing and heavily embarrassing situation. In case you missed it, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway incorrectly announced the Best Picture winner to be La La Land after receiving a duplicate of the Best Actress envelope rather than the Best Picture envelope. The La La Land producers and cast took to the stage and speeches were made, as chaos ensued backstage until eventually, amidst frantic whispers, the mistake was realised by the producers. Jordan Horowitz graciously broke the news that it was Moonlight, in fact, that had won the night. Watch the entire saga below.
La La Land was a strong favourite for Best Picture, and I despondently predicted its win. Thus despite the mix-up, Moonlight‘s win was a very pleasant surprise for many. It was especially welcomed by people of colour and by the LGBT community. The film is characterised by a tenderness in its approach to a relatively unexplored idea – that of black masculinity and homosexuality. The two ideas have rarely been looked at together in a single film, and never in one so commercially successful and critically acclaimed. This has been an enormously valuable step forward for diversity in film as the win has demonstrated that there is a large place for people of colour in film – and that these people can achieve success in the industry.
Furthermore, while the existence of Moonlight in itself created discourse for gay black men, its Best Picture win has created recognition. It has shown young black boys that it is not a crime to have emotions, and that their sexuality is allowed to be questioned. It has shown them that the world has become more accepting and is willing to have necessary discussions. In creating the play on which Moonlight is based, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, Tarell Alvin McCraney was writing largely based on his own life-experiences. His childhood was filled with struggle and pain, and he was never able to find validation in mainstream media; he was not able to feel seen. In an interview about Moonlight, he said “…the thing you most want has nothing to do with your masculinity or what occupation you decide. The thing you most want, being seen, doesn’t require all of those things.” And he, along with Barry Jenkins, has proven this to audiences across the world.
However, not all of the discourse that came out of the Oscars was around such a valuable theme. As expected, Casey Affleck took home the award for Best Actor, but many have found it difficult to be pleased with this win, including Brie Larson who refused to clap after handing the actor his award. This is not because Affleck’s performance was undeserving of a win, but because of the sexual harassment claims laid against the Manchester By The Sea actor. While on set for his 2010 film I’m Still Here, Affleck reportedly harassed and abused cinematographer Magdalena Gorka and producer Amanda White. While many argue that these are simply allegations and that the actor should be seen as innocent until proven guilty, these allegations become a lot more serious when they come from two separate women. The women are able to recount specific incidents in great detail, such as Gorka’s chilling account of waking up to find Affleck in her bed with his arms around her.
The Academy’s act of allowing Affleck to walk home with a statuette is effectively an act of silencing. Gorka and White’s voices have been silenced, and thus so too have the voices of victims of sexual harassment everywhere. The message to girls is fairly clear: if a man is famous and rich enough, he can get away with anything. The fact that the women lost their case is discouraging enough as it is, but the fact that Affleck went on to receive one of the most prestigious awards in the industry despite the allegations is just plain infuriating. It shows that being accused of sexual harassment will not affect a man’s career in the slightest, as we have seen in the similarly disturbing case of Birth of a Nation director Nate Parker. This can easily be compared to the United States president, Donald Trump, who won the elections despite the multiple sexual assault claims laid against him, as well as South African president, Jacob Zuma, who, in 2005, was taken to court over charges of rape that were ultimately dismissed.
The 89th Academy Awards have certainly elicited mixed feelings ranging from pride and hope, to disillusionment and anger. Thankfully, the #OscarsSoWhite trend seems to have faded, most likely for good. We can only have faith in the Academy that a trend of recognition despite harassment has not begun. It is ultimately up to the film industry as a whole to determine how next year’s awards will pan out – whether inclusion will continue to prevail, whether the voices of sexual harassment victims will be recognised, and whether we will be treated to another awards season of high quality and deeply moving films. And hopefully next year the presenters will be given the correct envelope!