Ed’s Note: The below article only discusses artistic merit in terms of the meaningless race for awards. It in no way is a comment on the quality of the films mentioned, but a look at how Oscar loves putting on a pageant.
No, not the moment where Jimmy Kimmel held up the Indian kid from Lion as the motherfucking Lion King. No, I’m not talking about any of those moments where he made fun of black people’s names. Nor, am I talking about Amy Adams’ plunging neckline dress (damn, gurl!), nor of the handsome Tarell Alvin McCraney who stands something like 7′ tall (call me!) and positively dwarfs Barry Jenkins.
I’m talking about the moment that played like a role reversal of election day.
Everybody can remember election day, where the sure-fire favorite-to-win (painted by the media as the favorite of minority voters and identity politics) was assured an easy triumph against the underdog (painted by the same media as the favorite of white voters across America). Even as the ballots were being cast, throughout the day, we were assured that the favorite-to-win would be winning by the widest margins ever. And then the polls started closing. And, by the end of the night, everybody on one side of the aisle was crying and bemoaning their role in the downfall of a party. Everybody on the other side of the aisle stood back in shock, too surprised to even grab hold of the moment and gloat.
Oscar just reversed that and turned it into a fantasy. A meaningless fantasy straight from La La Land, but a fantasy nonetheless.
Let’s take a look at the parallels. Since the premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, La La Land was beloved by all the film critics who saw it. It was a romantic nostalgic movie about Making Hollywood Great Again. Early on, there were some detractors who said that La La Land was completely empty fantasy fulfillment (me, Richard Brody)and a couple of other detractors who said it was made for straight people (Armond White) and white people (Allison Willmore). But, the La La Land hype train barreled forward, with plenty of accolades from various film critics, gaining popularity among eager fans ready to love again, and garnering awards from the Golden Globes and the New York Film Circle. And, why not? It was a love letter to Hollywood, and everybody knows that Hollywood loves itself more than anything.
Meanwhile, a competitor appeared. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight was the height of intersectionality. It was unabashedly black and gay. Certainly, there were some detractors from the start who called it a story about victims (Mike D’Angelo), that fetishized black gay lives (Armond White) full of reductive stereotypes (Jake Cole). But, it was generally a beloved film that seemingly had no chance in hell for featuring black characters who were neither slaves nor had a white savior and centralized a gay character who had the nerve to survive. All of those factors bucked the trends for Oscar’s Best Picture winners, and made it a favorite underdog to win.
When the nominations were announced, La La Land was tied for the most amount of nominations ever with Titanic and Ben-Hur. Oscar pundits discussed La La Land as a shoo-in set to break the record of most Oscars won by a single film. In the week before the Oscar ceremony, even The New York Times published an article that looked at the financial demographics that showed La La Land was a surefire favorite to win while Moonlight made the least amount of money and divided audiences across the country (though it was beloved up here in King County). But, there were grumblings of an upset. The Hollywood Reporter’s brutally honest ballots showed little love for La La Land, with one going so far as to call it a piece of shit. Even critics who had previously loved La La Land were starting to see its flaws.
On Oscar night, Oscar was lining up the win as La La Land started knocking back the wins, from score and song to Best Director. Emma Stone scored her Best Actress win to set up La La Land for the final kicker to win 3 of the four major awards. And then, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway toddled up the stage and announced the inevitable, La La Land was the winner. Speeches were given, tv sets were turned off. At the party I attended, many people grabbed their coats and left the building. And then there was a last minute upset. Moonlight won! From the unbearable grasp of white nostalgia, the Academy rescinded the announcement and gave the award to the movie about modern identity politics.
In a ceremony where so many speeches were focusing on Trump as a president, ad they gave the best foreign language film the a man directly effected by Trump’s travel ban, there was no way they weren’t going to give it to Moonlight. Then Warren Beatty (writer director of Bulworth, the political comedy that brutally criticized the Democrats for using black culture as a tool without actually doing anything to help the system), switched the envelopes. Whether Warren Beatty actually had the wrong envelope or this was staged as an LA fantasy where minorities unexpectedly triumph at the 11th hour over white nostalgia is besides the point (I believe this whole thing was staged from the beginning). The scene functions as both an example of La La Land‘s belief in Hollywood mix of bizarro wish fulfillment and heartbreak and as an alternate scenario where Hillary would have triumphed over Trump at 1 AM PST as PA, OH, MI, and WI suddenly came to their senses and realized they miscounted and they actually voted for Clinton.
Or, maybe I’m misreading this whole thing… *shifty eyes*