Moonlight – A controversial best picture

Moonlight – a controversial best picture.

I wanted to like Moonlight, I really did. It was touted as the indie film of the year. It scored a tidy pre-sale figure. It was hyped by reviewers. All these things going for it and still, I left the theatre underwhelmed and worse, wondering what all the fuss was about. When it won Best Picture in the zaniest Oscar snafu ever, I was shocked.

It’s not a bad movie. Mahershala Ali deserved his Best Supporting actor Oscar. His performance anchored a slow first act, made slower with a protagonist I couldn’t connect with. Chiron was troubled with a capital T. I get it. But I need more than a mute character to care.  Switching up actors to play this protagonist over three acts added to the dissonance.  Just when I got into a groove, the actor changed.

A film that takes it’s time is welcome in the age of explosion and special f/x rampages that leave me feeling run over instead of entertained.  Slow is ok; stasis is not.  Moonlight could have been twenty minutes shorter and still gotten it’s point across.

African American man and young boy

Mahershala Ali, best supporting actor winner

Moonlight: Best Picture or Best Solution?

2017 was the year African Americans dominated the Oscars winning key awards such as Best supporting Actor and Actress, Adapted screenplay and Best Picture. It was the biggest haul for African Americans ever. But Moonlight for best picture?

The Oscars have a long tradition of awarding performers and directors based purely on the premise: it’s time they win. Whether it’s Leonardo DiCaprio for “The Revenant”, Julianne Moore for “Ask Alice” or Scorsese for “The Departed”, sometimes I just know who’s going to win only because they haven’t won.

The Academy has come under fire in the past several years for being ‘too white’, and this surging tide was capped off with the controversial 2016 show hosted by Chris Rock.  Ironically, the movie predicted to win Best Picture in 2017 was the whitest Oscar bait in years. Not only was La La Land bright and bubbly, it reinvigorated the (arguably) whitest movie genre around: the musical.

But despite decent dialogue and acting, the movie fell flat for me in the third act with contrived emotion and ending on a confectionary note.  When it was erroneously announced that La La Land won Best picture (for about thirty seconds) I wasn’t surprised.    And then Moonlight emerged triumphant.

Was 2016 the tipping point to Oscar’s whitedom? Perhaps.

Man and woman dancing

The sugar coated and easily digestible La-La Land


Should race define merit?

Should we dissect a movie’s merit based on awards?  No. Should we view Moonlight winning as Black trumping White? In the short view, maybe. In the long haul, no.  What’s sad is that we have to ASK that question in the first place. A movie should be judged on its content: not on race or ethnicity. The Academy’s decision to give it Best Picture smacks of bowing down to the recent race pressures it’s faced.  Moonlight is a decent, not great, movie filled with black actors, written and directed by a black man.  It garnered enough attention to give the Academy a chance to get the proverbial race monkey of its back.

And that’s why Moonlight won Best Picture.