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The biggest error in Academy Award history: What does it really mean?


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As is the fashion with the dramatic arts, each awards season is unable to shake the inevitable drama that comes with it.

In particular, the Academy Awards is an evening rife with shock and spectacle, and in previous years we have truly witnessed some corkers - from Jennifer Lawrence’s fall walking to the stage, Marlon Brando refusing to accept his Best Actor award for The Godfather due to the treatment of American Indians in the film industry, John Travolta’s botching of Idina Menzel’s name to ‘Adele Nazeem’ to Chris Rock’s defamatory speech regarding #OscarsSoWhite and the misrepresentation of black actors in the main award categories just last year. I could go on for hours, but the latter fits in nicely with the main dramatic event of this year’s ceremony.

While the 89th Academy Awards had many things occur to make it a memorable evening - the backlash against Casey Affleck’s win due to his sexual harassment allegations, Viola Davis’s wonderfully emotional and uplifting speech - the biggest error in Oscar history is what will define it.

In case you missed it, the Best Picture award was falsely presented to La La Land, when in actual fact the winner was Moonlight. This could have all been easily avoided, with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway being given the wrong category card for Best Actress. It became clear throughout La La Land’s producers’ speeches that something had gone awry, before Justin Horowitz explaining to the audience that “there’s been a mistake”, and announcing that Moonlight was the real winner.

Horowitz was truly gracious in public defeat, making sure to rectify the mistake and let his friends from Moonlight revel in their awards. It was an excruciating five or so minutes at the end of a ceremony that will now be defined by its last moments, something that not even the witty Jimmy Kimmel could even attempt to salvage.

So what does this embarrassment mean? For starters, props to the cast and crew of La La Land. It was not their fault that the wrong film was read out and were humble in their acceptance of the situation, leaving the stage in order for Moonlight to accept its awards in the usual way. It must have really hurt to give those acceptance speeches only to be told that you didn’t actually win in front of millions of people.

However, the error also meant that the cast and crew of Moonlight did not truly get to enjoy their moment in the sun (if you pardon the pun). A film of its type, focusing on the lives of the black and LGBT communities, should have been awarded in the same way as every other winner that evening, and the mistake led to a much shorter amount of time in which to accept the award and give their speeches. The entire moment was incredulous, rushed and therefore felt like a total injustice. No matter whose fault it was, whether it was Leonardo DiCaprio or one of the PwC accountants, the fact of the matter is that it in a perfect world, it shouldn’t have happened.

Moonlight is a beautiful film, dealing with issues of race, homosexuality and abuse, and in winning the Best Picture award has become the first in Academy history to win with an all-black cast, the first LGBT film, and in turn meant that Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim man to win the award for Best Supporting Actor.

In terms of this, Moonlight’s triumph over La La Land, which has received criticism for being a very ‘white’ film, really means something. Considering last year’s #OscarsSoWhite criticism, the film will now be seen as a true pioneer within the industry. It is apt that a film such as La La Land should be a false winner, given that its ending in particular focuses on what could have been; being pipped to the post in a way such as this is essentially life imitating art.

But this whole debacle also begs the question: do awards such as these really matter anymore? The jury is still out on that one, with figures such as the fabulous Viola Davis at this year's BAFTAs accepting her award and saying ‘thank you for honouring the actors’.

Awards can be something to promote and make aware the talents and importance of certain figures, to promote the arts for future generations, but in this day and age, one can’t help but wonder if maybe they’re simply becoming too much of an entertainment form, which you could find hard to believe given their status and high level of glitz and glamour.

What we can all take from this debacle is while there may have been an error, a miscommunication, an embarrassment, the fact of the matter is that Moonlight still won. And a win for a film of its kind is extremely important given our current political times. Here’s hoping next year’s nominees and winners are just as varied and defiant as the 2016/17 season has been.

Moonlight is out in UK cinemas now. 

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