'Moonlight,' written and directed by Barry Jenkins, won Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards. (Courtesy A24 Films)

Oscars 2017 try and fail for a year without controversy

On Sunday night, just as it seemed like #OscarsSoWhite was rearing its head once more in a final, predictable best picture win for “La La Land” (2016), the film’s producer Jordan Horowitz said, “There’s a mistake,” before revealing the greatest gaffe in Academy Awards history: “Moonlight” (2016) had actually won the award. Thanks, Bonnie and Clyde.

The incredible mix-up was met by a sea of dropped jaws and a flurry of explanations. Presenter Warren Beatty, who hesitated in confusion upon seeing Emma Stone’s best actress card in his hands before co-presenter Faye Dunaway made the mistaken announcement, tried to explain his part in the drama to little avail. Eventually, a visibly upset though gracious Horowitz passed the trophy off to the stunned cast and crew of “Moonlight.”

“Very clearly, very clearly, even in my dreams, this could not be true. But to hell with dreams, I’m done with it, ’cause this is true. Oh my goodness,” “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins said upon taking the stage to receive the award.

Although the moment will surely go down in Oscars history, it wasn’t the moment it should have been for the cast and crew of “Moonlight,” a film with an all-black cast about the personal narrative of a poor, gay man that many believed did not stand a chance in the wake of 2016’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy and the Academy’s history of overlooking excellent performances from people of color. It seems as though the Academy’s attempt to acknowledge its previous mistakes did not have the intended effect, however, with the confusion that was ultimately caused by Brian Cullinan, a managing partner at the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers tasked with counting Oscar votes, who handed the presenters the wrong envelope.

“Moonlight” collectively won three major awards, including best adapted screenplay and best supporting actor for Mahershala Ali. Even though it did not win best picture, “La La Land” still managed to snag six wins out of its 12 nominations.

The gaffe wasn’t the only moment that made history during this year’s show. Viola Davis, who won best supporting actress for her role in “Fences” (2016), became the first black actor to win an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony for acting. Her acceptance speech was arguably the best of the evening, blending personal anecdotes with a powerful, poetic message supporting art and passion.

Host Jimmy Kimmel was at his Jimmy Kimmel-est, teasing Matt Damon throughout the evening about their fake feud, mocking people’s names and occasionally doing bits from his show, such as making normal people on the street look dumb and forcing celebrities to read the mean (and usually funny) tweets these normal people make about them.

Of course, national politics were always lurking in the background and occasionally bubbled to the surface (Kimmel sent the president a “u up?” tweet on air), but the politics of the show were rather muted in comparison to those at the Golden Globes. One of the biggest political statements came in the form of an acceptance speech by Anousheh Ansari on behalf of Asghar Farhadi, director of the Iranian drama “The Salesman,” which won best foreign language film. Farhadi did not attend the ceremony in protest of President Donald Trump’s now-frozen travel ban, and his acceptance speech reiterated his condemnation of what he referred to as the “inhumane law.”

Another notable winner was Casey Affleck, who received the award for best actor for his role in “Manchester by the Sea” (2016) despite allegations of sexual abuse and harassment that were settled out of court in 2010. Many critics believe Affleck’s award perpetuates a culture of sexism in the industry, as it will invariably lead to his gaining more money, power and influence in Hollywood despite his history. The award’s presenter and last year’s best actress winner Brie Larson refused to clap, while model and social media star Chrissy Teigen, who was among Affleck’s detractors, could be seen pretending to sleep during his acceptance speech.

For an awards show that put so many elements in place to avoid controversy — a lukewarm host, candy falling from the ceiling, black nominees actually winning — the final result was anything but forgettable. The bar has somehow been set both so high and so low for 2018.

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