When I first started writing this blog in the fall, I mentioned that the thing most people dislike about the Academy Awards is how it seems like the winners are decided long before the ceremony actually happens. Back then there were multiple films that seemed like they could become the frontrunner. As the year went on, La La Land seemingly took that lead. I, and most other Oscar predictors, had the film picked to win Best Picture as well as a slew of other awards. I never could have predicted what actually happened. Even without the hard to watch and historic envelope mix up, Moonlight winning Best Picture was totally unprecedented. At $1.5 million, it has the lowest budget of any Best Picture winner, even after adjusting for inflation. It is also only the second film to win Best Picture featuring a cast completely comprised of people of color, Slumdog Millionaire being the first in 2009, and the first all African American cast. It is also regarded by most critics as the actual best film of 2016 which rarely corresponds with the Best Picture winner.
We can assume that much of this can be attributed to the Academy’s new class of voters. After the controversy of the Academy Awards of 2015 and 2016 which had no actors of color nominated, often referred to as #oscarssowhite, Academy president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, inducted 683 new members, 41% of whom were people of color and 46% women. This younger, more diverse body of voters may have leaned in the direction of a more artistic, political film than the former voting body would have. The Oscars odd voting method could also have accounted for Moonlight’s shocking victory. When voting for Best Picture, voters are asked to rank the films instead of only voting for their favorite. If one film gets 50% of the vote, that film is the winner. If a film does not receive 50% the film with the least number of number one votes is dropped and the ballots that had the dropped film at number one have their vote go to their second choice. This continues until one film has received 50%. La La Land may have had more number one votes than Moonlight, but the backlash it has received for its portrayal of jazz and modern day Los Angeles may have caused it to fall down lower on some ballots while Moonlight stayed more consistently in voters top few picks.
Awards were spread evenly between the films. Damien Chazelle, at 32 years and 39 days old, became the youngest Best Director winner ever for La La Land. The film also picked up six other awards for Emma Stone for Best Actress, Best Song, Best Score, Production Design, and Cinematography. Manchester by the Sea won Best Original Screenplay and, despite the controversy around him regarding sexual assault allegations made against him on the set of another film, Best Actor for Casey Affleck. Viola Davis won Best Supporting Actress, as expected, for Fences. Along with Best Picture, Moonlight won Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali. It will be interesting to see in the next year if this is how the Academy Awards will look for the foreseeable future. They could continue this pattern by choosing the buzzy gay romance Call Me By Your Name that received raves at Sundance or go with more traditional awards season fodder like the untitled Daniel Day-Lewis starring, Paul Thomas-Anderson directed period drama. A film that could add to the similarities between this year and the next is the Hugh Jackman vehicle, The Greatest Showman, an original musical about the life of PT Barnum with lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the same team behind La La Land.
The fact that the two films that have been pitted against each other all year culminating in the biggest mix up in Oscar history are an intimate drama about a poor, gay black man in Miami and an original musical that has grossed over $300 million worldwide is something to celebrate. It goes to show that audiences and voters still want original stories without special effects and no sequels planned. The success of these two films will hopefully result in ones like them getting made more and that is a win for everyone.
– Chandler Ferrebee, Light House Program Support Intern