By Erin Cabrey
The Academy Awards have always been an awards ceremony with high stakes. The coveted Oscar trophy solidifies its winner’s status as among the most talented in Hollywood. This year, at the award show’s 89th edition, the stakes were not simply based on praising the Los Angeles elite, but also celebrating the diversity and alternative voices finally finding their way into the mainstream film industry. This Oscars, ultimately, was able to achieve this in a twist ending not even M. Night Shyamalan could dream up.
The night began with a safe and controversy-free choice, Justin Timberlake singing his Best Original Song nominee “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” as he danced his way through the crowd. Host Jimmy Kimmel then took to the stage, skewering celebrities in attendance during his monologue and continuing long-running jokes from his late night show, including a feud with Matt Damon and an Oscars edition of “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets.” Kimmel did not shy away from the outstanding #OscarsSoWhite controversy from last year’s ceremony, saying “I want to say thank you to President Trump — I mean, remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?”
The night’s first award, Best Supporting Actor, guaranteed this year’s ceremony would not be whitewashed, as it went to Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali, the first Muslim actor to ever win an Oscar. The actor gave an emotional speech in which he thanked his wife, who had just given birth to their daughter three days prior.
Another moving moment came when Hidden Figures stars Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae and Taraji P. Henson welcomed to the stage Katherine Johnson, the real NASA employee whom Henson played in the film, to honor her work. She was met with a standing ovation by the crowd.
Best Supporting Actress then went to Viola Davis for her powerful performance in Fences. “We are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life,” Davis proclaimed before thanking her co-star Denzel Washington.
Director Asghar Farhadi, the winner for Best Foreign Language film, The Salesman, surprised many when he chose to skip the ceremony. When his win was announced, a statement was read on his behalf, stating Farhadi felt “disrespected by the inhumane law that bans the entry of immigrants into the U.S. Dividing the world into the ‘us and our enemies’ categories creates fear.”
Soon after came a particularly cringe-worthy segment in which unsuspecting tourists, thinking they were attending a costume exhibition, were paraded into the Dolby Theatre, phones glued to their hands as they took snaps of the front-row celebrities. The bit, which ran far too long for a show known for going over the three hour mark, saw Kimmel make fun of an Asian woman’s name. This continued a theme of uncomfortable jokes aimed at people of color. Earlier in the night he told Mahershala Ali he could not give his daughter a “normal” name, and later in the night, lifted up Lion’s Sunny Pawar as the theme from the The Lion King played. Needless to say, these incidents received copious online backlash.
La La Land, receiving 14 nominations, began to gain momentum later in the broadcast, nabbing Best Production Design, Cinematography, Original Score, Original Song for “City of Stars” and Director for Damien Chazelle.
Kenneth Lonergan upset Chazelle, however, for Best Original Screenplay for Manchester by the Sea. Barry Jenkins took the prize for Best Adapted Screenplay, giving a shout-out to the American Civil Liberties Union, which many celebrities supported by wearing blue ribbons on the red carpet.
Best Actress went, unsurprisingly, to La La Land actress Emma Stone, who thanked Chazelle and costar Ryan Gosling in her speech. The Best Actor trophy went to Casey Affleck, and many took to Twitter to point out that the win was not warmly received by a few attending actors, likely due to controversy surrounding Affleck’s multiple sexual assault allegations. Brie Larson, last year’s Best Actress winner who announced Affleck’s name, was spotted not participating in applause as the actor took the stage, and when Affleck thanked fellow nominee Denzel Washington, the internet was immediately flooded with gifs of the Fences actor’s clearly unenthused face.
The night’s most memorable moment came when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway took the stage to announce the winner for Best Picture. Would it be Hollywood darling La La Land or tenderly groundbreaking Moonlight? The now infamous envelope mix up made the answer to that question particularly hard to come by. When Dunaway announced La La Land as the winner, the cast and crew took the stage in elation, and were mid-speech when it was discovered that Moonlight was in fact the real winner.
The shocked but elated Moonlight cast took the stage. The mix-up did not allow much time for the rightful winners’ speeches, but producer Adele Romanski noted she hoped the film inspired “little black boys and brown girls and other folks watching at home who feel marginalized.” Barry Jenkins, clearly overwhelmed, stated, “Very clearly, even in my dreams, this could not be true. But to hell with dreams, I’m done with it, ‘cause this is true.”
Chaos swirled as two full casts and crews shuffled off the stage, and Beatty took the opportunity to clear his name, revealing he had been handed the Best Actress envelope instead of the one for Best Picture. However, the damage had already been done, as audiences across the country were treated to an equal parts shocking and satisfying ending fit for the silver screen.