In an upset made all the more shocking by its announcement, Moonlight won the Oscar for best picture, a crowning achievement for African American filmmakers after two years of controversy over institutional racism in Hollywood.
Actor Warren Beatty mistakenly announced that La La Land, the favourite, had won the best picture award, and the winners had already taken the stage when he was corrected. Instead of the retro musical, a coming-of-age film about a black gay man, distributed by tiny A24, was Sunday night’s big winner.
Oscar voters also honoured black actors for both supporting-actor categories in a ceremony peppered with political barbs at US President Donald Trump.
La La Land, distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment, won six of its 14 nominations, including best director for Damien Chazelle, who at 32 is the youngest to win the award, and best actress for Emma Stone. Casey Affleck won best actor for Manchester by the Sea.
Mahershala Ali’s portrayal of a drug-dealing father figure in Moonlight and Viola Davis’s embattled housewife in Fences, both supporting roles, were early winners in Sunday night’s ceremony.
Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney won for adapted screenplay for Moonlight, the first time multiple African American writers have received an Oscar in the same year.
“This goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and all those non-gender-conforming,” McCraney said. “This is to all of you.”
Ali and Davis were two of six black actors nominated for an Academy Award after two years when people of colour were snubbed.
In response to complaints about a lack of diversity, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences last year brought in 683 new members, almost double the number added the previous year, to include a more diverse group of people.
The Academy Awards, hosted this year on ABC by Jimmy Kimmel, can boost the fortunes of small films and create new power brokers in Hollywood. More importantly, they’re an important cultural touchstone, drawing more than 30m viewers in the US alone.
A lack of diversity remains an issue in front of and behind the camera, and the #OscarsSoWhite Twitter campaign of the last two years clearly bruised Hollywood, normally known as a bastion of liberalism.
The election of Trump, a Republican, in November also gave this year’s awards ceremony special significance, since actors such as Meryl Streep have directly drawn the president’s ire for using their celebrity to make political statements.
“Thank you, President Trump,” Kimmel said in his opening monologue. “Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist? That’s gone, thanks to him.”
That was one of several jokes at the president’s expense, including several entreaties by Kimmel for Trump to tweet about the proceedings. As of the end of the ceremony, he hadn’t obliged.
Few other presenters or winners made overt political statements. Ruth Negga, nominated for her role in Loving, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the musical Hamilton, were among actors wearing a blue ribbon Sunday night in support of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has battled Trump’s immigration restrictions in court.
Director Ava DuVernay, whose film 13th about mass incarceration was nominated for best documentary, posted a picture of herself on social media holding a sweater with the name Trayvon, in memory of Trayvon Martin, the teenager gunned down in 2012. Her film lost to O.J.: Made in America, which explores the racial themes behind the 1995 murder trial of the former football star OJ Simpson.
This year the Oscars has been directly affected by President Trump’s policies. Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director of best foreign film winner The Salesman, said in a statement read at the ceremony that he boycotted the event in solidarity with those affected by “inhumane” travel restrictions Trump attempted to impose on Iran and other majority-Muslim countries.
“Dividing the world into the ‘us and enemies’ categories creates fear,” said Farhadi. His film was distributed by Amazon.com, whose CEO Jeff Bezos was in the audience.
Khaled Khateeb, the Syrian cinematographer of documentary short-feature winner The White Helmets, was barred entry to the US, according to the Associated Press. The film, distributed by Netflix, is about volunteer rescue workers in war-torn Syria.
The Salesman and The White Helmets were the first Oscar wins for Amazon and Netflix and the first for streaming-video services, a reflection of how the technology industry infiltrating Hollywood. Amazon’s Manchester by the Sea also garnered a best original screenplay award for Kenneth Lonergan.
Streep, nominated for best actress this year for Florence Foster Jenkins, drew Trump’s attention after a speech at the Golden Globes criticising the president and urging viewers to support a free press. Trump responded by tweeting that Streep, a 20-time Oscar nominee and three-time winner, is an overrated actress.
Kimmel led the Academy Awards audience in a standing ovation for Streep, saying she was due a “totally undeserved round of applause”. — (c) 2017 Bloomberg LP