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Moonlight wins best picture Oscar after announcement mix-up

In a historic celebration of queer black identity, Barry Jenkins’ masterpiece took home the top prize, but not before La La Land was accidentally declared the winner

In a momentous occasion, Moonlight has secured the Academy Award for best picture, minutes after the honour was accidentally given to La La Land

The error was made by presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, who were given the wrong announcement envelope (according to reports, the card inside read “Emma Stone, La La Land”). The mix-up was realised two minutes into La La Land’s acceptance speech, with the film’s producer, Jordan Horowitz, taking the stage to admit that a mistake had been made. He then held up a card showing Moonlight as the true winner. 

“Very clearly, even in my dreams this could not be true,” Moonlight director Barry Jenkins said while accepting the award. “But to hell with dreams, I'm done with it, cause this is true. Oh my goodness.”

“I’d never seen that happen before,” Jenkins said backstage afterwards. “It made a special feeling more special but not in the way I expected. The last 20 minutes of my life have been insane.” 

Despite the gaff, it’s a huge triumph for the beautiful coming-of-age drama, which follows the story of a gay black man growing up in Miami: a raw, real story of queer black identity, love and struggle that banishes the unbearable whiteness of mainstream films, and the stereotypes that surround LGBT people of colour. It was an unexpected winner given La La Land’s record-setting amount of nominations (14 in total). Before that point, the musical had picked up some of the evening’s biggest gongs, including best director for Damien Chazelle and best actress for Emma Stone. 

“Things just happen. The folks from La La Land were so gracious. I can’t imagine being in their position,” Jenkins added. “It’s unfortunate the way things happened… but hot damn, we won best picture.”

Earlier in the night, Jenkins and original playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay. Jenkins directly addressed the disenfrancised and marginalised: “All you people out there who feel like there's no mirror for you, that your life is not reflected, the Academy has your back, the ACLU has your back, we have your back and for the next four years we will not leave you alone, we will not forget you,” Jenkins said.

Moonlight star Mahershala Ali, who played Juan, a father figure to protagonist Chiron, also scooped the award for best supporting actor, making him the first Muslim to ever win the prize. “I want to thank my teachers, my professors,” Ali said in his acceptance speech. “I had so many wonderful teachers and one thing they consistently told me...was that it wasn't about you, it's not about you, it’s about these characters. You are in service to these stories and these characters and I'm so blessed to have had an opportunity. It was about Juan, it was about Chiron, it's about Paula.”

Our current cover star Ashton Sanders previously told Dazed of his role as Chiron, taking on the complicated teenage role in the triptych narrative, where he copes with profound loss, his mother’s drug addiction and repressed sexual desires. “To be that lonely at such a young age for so long, you would feel a certain type of way,” said Sanders. “That’s how deeply I dug into his
 personality. Even talking about it right now, man, it’s super-sad, and you feel it. I had withdrawals from playing Chiron.” 

In an interview with Dazed, Barry Jenkins related how Trevante Rhodes (who plays the adult Chiron), “described it as a magic trick”. “There was no rehearsal, and I forbid them from meeting,” he said.

Discussing the importance of illustrating the stories of queer people of colour on screen, Jenkins told Dazed: “I think that if we see more honest portrayals of people like Chiron, of LGBTQ characters of colour, then maybe we won’t ‘other” them as much as we do. Maybe we won’t feel those characters can’t represent us. Chiron is a guy who’s trying to find his identity, just like anyone else. His sexuality happens to be a core element of his identity, just like heterosexuality is a core element of other people’s identities. The more of these images we have, the less taboo they will become, and the more people will approach them with a sense of understanding.”

On the night, Viola Davis won best supporting actress for Fences, while Casey Affleck took home best actor for Manchester By The Sea

Revisit why Moonlight was the most important film of 2016 here, and read our cover story with star Ashton Sanders here.