The Importance of Moonlight’s Best Picture Win

Jasmine Fernandez, Editor-In-Chief

The lights dim; the audience stills. The atmosphere changes in an instant and there is a paradigm shift in the celebrities glittering under the stars. All that can be heard is the crinkle of an envelope as the hearts of film enthusiasts across the world work double time. And the Oscar goes to…. La La Land?


Admittedly, I was fooled for the two minutes or so Damien Chazelle’s blockbuster musical held the “Best Picture” title, but I was even more overjoyed the moment Jordan Horowitz, the film’s producer, announced the Academy’s mistake. In actuality, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight was the 89th Academy Awards’ champion.


Flubs aside, Moonlight’s win broke barriers; before, the Academy never had an all-African American film win Best Picture, not to mention one focusing on explicitly LGBT themes. Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, the movie follows the life of Chiron, a gay, black man living through the effects of his mother’s drug addiction and his sexuality. Compared to 2016’s “#OscarsSoWhite,” Moonlight’s Oscar is a big step forward. I would even go as far as to say it is a leap.


The competition with which Moonlight rallied up against included a slew of films led by actors of color– Lion, starring Dev Patel, Hidden Figures, starring Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson, and Octavia Spencer, and Fences, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Their inclusion in this year’s award season alone shows the potential Hollywood has in successfully representing minorities in stories that are not detrimental, stereotypical, or racist. In fact, these four movies hold some of the highest scores from film critics and endless praise from the masses. At this point, after so much progress, the assumption that a diverse Hollywood is unmarketable is nothing but an ignorant, racism fueled statement paraded by those scared of minorities. Moonlight in particular took this rhetoric and turned it on its head, masterfully weaving together a delicate story charged with emotion and power with the ongoing societal conflicts of race and sexuality. Black narratives have the ability to influence the world just as white narratives do, so it is only apt that the Academy begins honoring them as so.


Another one of the film’s competitors was La La Land, a musical in which jazz was the main focus with no pivotal black characters leading it. Chazelle’s film essentially whitewashed a movement cultivated and nurtured by African Americans in order to feed a white narrative that ultimately became one of 2016’s biggest hits. While I thoroughly enjoyed what La La Land had to offer, it is unmistakably unfair that such a film earns the Academy’s praise while a film like Moonlight is left without grace. Moonlight’s win goes beyond the quality of film; Moonlight’s win means a victory for black artists, creators, and voices left without representation in the movie industry. Hollywood’s productions directly reflect issues imposed by society– why should we cherry-pick the content we consume based on that same society’s majorities?