The day after Oscar's craziest, shocking moment ever, questions still linger about why "La La Land" was announced best picture when "Moonlight" was the true winner.
L.A. Times' film critic Justin Chang comes to the conclusion that the two movies' fortunes were inextricable and the you-couldn’t-have-scripted-it finale oddly enough made sense.
After two years of consecutive #OscarsSoWhite controversies, does Sunday night's best picture victory for "Moonlight," among other wins for actors and filmmakers of color, represent a major breakthrough for the issue of diversity in Hollywood? Or could it ultimately prove to be just a blip?
We spoke to writer and activist April Reign, creator of the #OscarSoWhite hashtag, about what Sunday night's Oscar show says — and doesn't say — about the current state of inclusion in the film industry.
After two years of all-white nominees in the acting categories, what was your main takeaway from Sunday night?
April Reign: My main takeaway was that when quality films are made that reflect the diversity of experiences in this country, people will go to see them. They will receive critical acclaim and, in some cases, they will win what is considered the highest award in the film industry.
I think if one saw all nine nominees for best picture, it was clear that "Moonlight" deserved to be nominated — and for me personally, it was the best film that I saw in 2016. But I'm also incredibly encouraged about what happened in the lesser-known categories: adapted screenplay and best documentary and even the nominations that we had of black people in cinematography and editing.
All that said, it’s just one night out of 90 nights of lack of representation of marginalized communities and, even with all of the wins [Sunday] night for films that reflect the black experience, #OscarsSoWhite remains relevant because there are still so many stories from traditionally underrepresented communities that need to be told.
What went through your head when it was initially announced that "La La Land" had won best picture?
I was disappointed, just because “La La Land” didn’t stay with me the way “Moonlight” did. “Moonlight” was such a beautiful film, it almost could have been a silent film and you could have just watched it and still taken something away from it. “La La Land” was a return to nostalgia and it was sort of a self-congratulatory film for Hollywood. I think there’s a place for all different kinds of films in different genres, but it wasn’t one that I would say, “I need to see that a second or third time,” like I did with “Moonlight.”
Then we had the snafu and things changed and I was elated because what I thought was the best film actually won. You know, it’s all personal and subjective and people can make arguments about all nine of the films and I absolutely get that. But for me, just as a moviegoer, I thought it was the best film of the year.
Had "La La Land," in fact, won best picture, what is your sense of what the social media reaction and the conversation around the diversity issue might have been Monday?
There was some of that. In those 30 seconds, I was watching it happen on Twitter and people were angry.
And we’re going to have that every year. I already have people in my mentions saying the win for “Moonlight” was just as "rigged" as the 2016 presidential election was, or “Moonlight” only won because of affirmative action.
That’s the difficult thing for me moving forward, that every time a person of color wins, there’s going to be someone — and unfortunately some publications, not just some random trolls — that ask whether this was just some quota thing or whether it was deserved. And I think that’s unfortunate because I think it really downplays all of the effort and the hard work and the talent that goes into all of these performances.
Nobody questioned whether Emma Stone should win an Oscar or whether Meryl Streep should win an Oscar. But people always question whether a person of color should, and that’s just unfair.
We'll never know how the votes broke down, but do you think the steps that the academy took last year to invite its largest, most diverse class ever has somehow turned the tide, or could this year ultimately just be a kind of one-off?
I think it remains to be seen. I think the influx of 683 invitees was helpful for everyone, both those who were already members and for new members, to say, “Let’s look at this process and make sure that we’re doing the very best that we can.”
But it’s very important to me that we make sure to say that the wins that happened last night were not because of #OscarsSoWhite.
Viola Davis deserves every award ever, in every category. Mahershala Ali’s gripping, haunting performance was the best that I saw last year, so he was fully deserving. And all of the movies that were nominated and won were in production or pre-production for years before January 2015 when I created the hashtag.
So it really remains to be seen what happens, let’s say, three or four years from now, if Hollywood really is going to make a significant change in commitment to financing and distributing and supporting — because those three things are not always synonymous — films that represent all marginalized communities.
[Sunday] was a great night, but it was one night out of many.