It was shock, confusion, and joy as a floppy antenna faltered during Moonlight’s best-picture Oscar win at Liberty City’s block party for the only officially sanctioned Moonlight Oscars viewing party, at the African Heritage Cultural Center.
"Wait, wait. Is this real?"
Just a moment earlier, Carly Elizabeth was rolling with what seemed to be the predictable flow of La La Land winning all of the major categories at last night's Oscar ceremony: best actress, best score, best director, and others.
"Oh, my God. Exhausting. Of course,” she said earlier as Faye Dunaway, projected on a giant screen outside the center, declared La La Land the winner as she read from a card that she and Warren Beatty were handed. "Hollywood loves Hollywood."
But suddenly, as the announcements for the end of the night of the Moonlight Oscars Block Party in Liberty City were being given over the faded-out voices of La La Land’s producers’ acceptance speeches, the narrative onscreen changed.
There was chaos as the signal faltered when someone suddenly tried to bring up the volume for the broadcast on the sound system. What block party viewers couldn’t see beyond the flash of La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz holding up a card that read, “Moonlight - Best Picture,” was Moonlight director and Liberty City native son Barry Jenkins saying, “Very clearly, very clearly. Even in my dreams, this could not be true. But to hell with dreams" — a sly dig at La La Land? — "I’m done with it, because this is true.”
The Liberty City event doubled as a party for Borscht Diez film festival attendees; the founders of that festival played a role in persuading Jenkins to shoot a film in Miami. But attendees there didn't get to hear Jenkins. Instead, they wandered around, unsure of what had just happened. Some wondered about what copresenter Warren Beatty said during a brief flash of a clear signal. A young woman holding a wooden spoon pathetically tapped on a pot. Then there was a still image of Jenkins' face at the mike, center stage. The audience here — once confused about what was exactly going on in Hollywood — leapt into the air and cheered with joy, giving themselves hugs after tasting what they once thought was defeat.
As video proved later, Beatty was given the wrong card. He held in his hand the card for best actress, a prize bestowed upon Emma Stone earlier that evening.
La La Land had been expected to sweep the Oscars, an antidote to numb the Hollywood doldrums of a rough 2016 for the politically left-leaning industry that doesn’t enjoy confrontations with reality. Though beautifully styled, from score to Oscar-winning script to cinematography, Moonlight is, after all, a confrontation with reality. On that stage, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, sometime after midnight, the writer of Moonlight’s source material, Tarell Alvin McCraney, spoke about being one of “two black boys from Liberty City representing the 305,” standing alongside Jenkins. The crowd here would have loved to have heard that, but knowing of the win was enough to make sitting through the marathon back-patting session worthwhile.
The event, which, per usual ran beyond its running time, had tired many people in attendance. The evening began on a hopeful note, however, with Mahershala Ali winning the Best Supporting Actor prize for his performance as the drug dealer in Moonlight who becomes a father figure to the film’s gay protagonist, Chiron.
The crowd became intoxicated with anticipation, letting off the night's first huge cheer. Attendee Ana Marenco said, “I think Moonlight is gonna win all the awards it's nominated for.”
In between the awards, during commercials, the African Heritage Cultural Center arranged for local performers to sing, rap, or dance. This was the place where McCraney, who is now chair of the drama school at Yale, once taught, after all. It was also later announced in the evening that both McCraney and Jenkins had donated a combined $30,000 for plans to develop a new cinematic arts program at the center.
The love definitely flowed both ways that night, and it included a few people directly involved in the making of Moonlight. Borscht Corp. cofounder Lucas Leyva, who introduced Jenkins to his fellow New World Schools of the Arts mentor McCraney, was there.
"Mahershala [Ali] winning is cool,” he said, “but I think being nominated for eight awards is important for future recognition... but I'd be bullshitting you if I don't admit that I want to see Barry and Tarell win. I know you're not supposed to care about outside validation, but the truth is it matters."
Wesley Wray, the child actor who played the lead role in the Borscht film by Julian Yuri Rodriguez, One Dog Gone Summer, which premiered at the previous night’s screening event at the Olympia Theater in downtown Miami, was also there. He also acted as the stand-in for local actor Alex Hibbert, who played the childhood version of Chiron in Moonlight. After stepping off the stage following an extraordinary rendition of Andra Day’s “Rise Up,” he offered his two cents. “Forget La La Land. That movie is so boring,” he said about the tension in the air over Moonlight’s strongest competitor.
There was also a section of anything-but-La La Land booers. Ivete Lucas from the group explained the gang's rationale. “It’s like Hollywood loving itself over and over again,” she said. "I've always hated the Academy Awards. I'm waiting for a reason not to hate them anymore."
Soon after she spoke, and following La La Land’s back-to-back losses in sound editing and sound mixing, someone approached the group and declared, "You guys, Suicide Squad has more Oscars than La La Land." The superhero movie had won earlier for makeup and hairstyling.
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It wasn’t all hate for La La Land that night, however. A couple sitting against a back wall, to the side of the screen, on a giant beanbag chair, quietly applauded La La Land’s wins for best score and best song. Andrea Suarez explained her love of La La Land thusly: “I grew up watching Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire movies... To be fair, Moonlight and La La Land are in different categories, but they are both really well-made."
Miami filmmaker Kevin Sharpley noted before the event even began that Moonlight, win or lose, is an achievement unto itself because of its artistry. “I think Moonlight deserves it because it holds the heart and soul of what filmmaking is all about... I think it may be my favorite film of the decade.”
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.