On Sunday, the 26th of February saw the unveiling of the 89th Academy Awards: it was one of the most controversial Oscar ceremonies of recent memory, though perhaps not all for the right reasons. As Faye Dunaway mistakenly announced “La La Land” as the winner of the most prestigious award, the Best Picture trophy, cheering crowds were suddenly taken aback when “Moonlight” was announced as the actual winner of the trophy. Was this false announcement, in addition to the reactions to the sudden change, a sign of acceptance regarding the contemporary political alignment in America and most of Europe, or was it a simple blunder on behalf of the organisers? It would make sense to a certain degree that someone would pick the former option as this was one of the most politically-charged awards ceremonies since last year’s Academy Awards, which saw the commencement the Black Lives Matter movement. Regardless of which side of the equation one may be on, we could all agree that this ceremony was organised in an undoubtedly complicated political situation which would lead to some controversial happenings, though not necessarily affect the outcome of the decisions, let alone the mix-up regarding the Best Picture winner.
Having been able to watch “Moonlight”, yet not all the other Best Picture nominees, I would nevertheless have expected “Moonlight” to stand out: this is not necessarily due to the quality of the movie, but more attributable to the weight its message carries in contemporary American society. In this regard, one can view it as the well-deserving winner of the night. Perhaps this was a case of being at the right place at the right time. This ceremony was arguably the most diverse one in recent years, as Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim actor to win an Academy Award for acting in his short, yet prominent role in “Moonlight”. In addition to this, Viola Davis managed to scrape the Best Supporting Actress award that many predicted she would win, thus leaving BLM-related concerns at bay for another year.
In spite of the nature of these results, the Oscars were not intended to be politically charged. It was a hectic night at an equally hectic time: Jimmy Kimmel mocked Trump’s labelling of Meryl Streep as an “overrated” actress, also poking fun at Mel Gibson and sarcastically thanking Trump for making the Oscars appear “less racist”. A more significant form of protest, however, lied in Asghar Farhadi’s boycotting of the ceremony by his absence from the ceremony despite his Best Foreign Language Film win for “The Salesman”. As a supposed reaction to Trump’s travel ban that included Farhadi’s home country Iran, Farhadi did not attend the ceremony and instead left a note explaining his reason for absence.
From these outcomes, one may wonder whether the decisions to make the winners more diverse were a sign of protest, or just a question of who deserved their awards. Then again, it may just be a coincidence that such strong performances occurred under this time of divide. It is safe to let the reader decide.