There are several possible takeaways from all this confusion, not least the fact that Barry Jenkins’ film, despite the unfortunate circumstances of its moment in the spotlight, strikes me as the single most deserving best picture Oscar winner since “The Hurt Locker” and possibly “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”
Of course, “Moonlight” offers us a radically different vision of masculinity than those two films. A gay love story of bruising tenderness and psychological intimacy, “Moonlight” stands at a decisive remove from the kinds of movies that the academy has until now been fairly comfortable rewarding.
That’s why the film’s big win feels so culturally and statistically improbable; Even without the on-stage mix-up, it would have been a shocker for the history books. And amid all the necessary talk about improving diversity in front of and behind the camera, its triumph stands as a rebuke to the perception problem that the motion picture academy has often faced in terms of which films — and by extension, which genders, races and sexual orientations — are deemed significant enough for its highest honor.
Movies about straight white men, including “The King’s Speech,” “The Social Network,” “Lincoln” and “The Revenant,” don’t usually have to work hard to be taken seriously; their dramatic significance and mainstream appeal are assumed from the get-go.
To be fair, there have recently been several female-centric films that fulfilled the same requirements and were duly recognized for it. Brie Larson won the actress Oscar last year for “Room,” an intimate and emotional two-hander that was also nominated for best picture and director. Natalie Portman won for carrying the multi-Oscar-nominated “Black Swan,” while Sandra Bullock took the prize for one best picture nominee (“The Blind Side”) and was nominated for another (“Gravity”).
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