By Harrison Majithia
In the last few years, the best picture win at the Oscars was met with a shrug as most people returned to their daily lives, content in the knowledge that some multimillionaires in California handed some other multimillionaires a statue for their efforts, saying, ‘This film – yes, this film – is the best film.’ And so the world continued to turn. This year, however, Moonlight‘s win over La La Land has caused quite a stir, in both critical and general circles alike.
After the boycott last year, the Academy strove to change up their board to better reflect the increasing diversity in recent films, which would appear to have had a positive effect. Films which – though critically acclaimed – would have been overlooked by the Academy finally got the nominations they deserved. Films like Hidden Figures, Fences and obviously, Moonlight were up for awards this year, and though they didn’t sweep the awards they definitely took their due. Almost immediately after Moonlight‘s win was announced, views emerged on both sides of the polarising lens. Half of the world loved the win and the other half absolutely hated it.
Those who hated it had fewer issues with the actual quality of the film than they did with what the film’s win could possibly represent – that Moonlight‘s win could be – gasp! – pandering to a demographic to win an Oscar! To that I say: obviously. Every film from the last decade which won best picture was in some way pandering to the Academy’s taste. The leading narrative is that the win was a way for the Academy to showcase their ‘not racist’ views towards films, and apologise in some sense for last year.
It seems hypocritical to say first that the Oscars are won based on the merits of a film and then to say that certain films only won because they were specially selected, and to place the blame on identity politics. It’s certainly hypocritical to one year say: ‘Well, the reason that there aren’t any black nominees this year is because there simply weren’t any performances which were good enough’, and then say: ‘There are only so many black nominees this year because they’re fulfilling a political agenda.’ People who are thinking in that way are assuming that the system is only objective when it suits them. The truth is that the system is always as objective as possible with regards to performances. Swallow your pride, follow your own narrative, and accept that this year there were a number of black nominees because they all gave stellar performances and produced excellent films. More to the point – why are we still taking into account the skin colour of performers as if that’s a factor that affects their ability?
Best Picture isn’t about the film that looks the prettiest, has the best story, or acting – that’s why those categories exist as separate nominations. Best Picture is – and always has been – about the film which encapsulates the spirit of the time perfectly and reflects the society it exists in. La La Land is far too fantastical, too optimistic, to be that film. Moonlight – the first LGBT Best Picture and the lowest budget winner; a film about issues faced by black people, by gay people, by people who feel governed by standards of masculinity – is that film: a landmark of current culture. I’m neither black nor gay, but even I could see the importance of a film like Moonlight in a society currently dominated by the politics of fear, division, suspicion, prejudice and exclusion. In times like these, Moonlight reminds us that the most important thing, above all, is humanity.
Featured image courtesy of A24 and Plan B Entertainment