In case you hadn't heard, there was a bit of a... kerfuffle revolving around the Best Picture prize at the Academy Awards last night. Because of some unfortunate envelope switching, it was first announced that Damien Chazelle's La La Land had taken the coveted prize, but after an awkward correction, it was revealed that the true winner was actually Barry Jenkins' Moonlight. It's a moment that will certainly go down in Oscar history, as it was something unlike anything the audience of millions had seen before, but the really important thing to take away from all of it is this: the right movie ultimately walked away with the award.
Obviously there are many considerations that have to be taken into account when it comes to a Best Picture winner, but the top of the list is quality, and Moonlight most certainly is that. Conventional as it may be in its three-act structure, the film is entirely unconventional in every other way -- from its subject matter, to its character progression, to its beautiful and stunning performances (which was also recognized in the form of Mahershala Ali's Best Supporting Actor trophy). It uses a small-scale story and intimate stakes to tell a stunningly human story that is as beautiful as it is emotional, and in combination with James Laxton's exquisite cinematography and Jenkins' eye for color and ear for tone, it manages to be both one of the year's most visually and narratively rich pieces of cinema.
But, of course, this isn't all that makes up a justifiable Best Picture winner.
Anyone who has followed the Academy Awards for any significant amount of time also knows that quality is only part of the story, and for Moonlight the subject of the "Oscar Bump" is key as well. One of the most important roles that the Academy Awards play in pop culture is shining a light on great movies that people otherwise might never see, and Barry Jenkins' film is most definitely deserving of this very special exposure. While it received an overwhelming positive response from critics, it also never found its way into more than 650 theaters at a time during its domestic run, and only managed to make $22 million. Without the big Oscar win, the movie likely would have wound up a title that people vaguely remembered a few years from now, but the Best Picture win means that it now has its own special place in cinematic history, and that it will continue to find audiences for decades. That really means everything for such an extraordinary feature made with no budget, a very small-scale story, and no A-list stars.
Of course, it's also impossible not to pay attention to the context of the world in which Moonlight found itself released. Between the Black Lives Matter movement and politicians constantly calling into question the rights of LGBTQ individuals, we are currently living in a time of tremendous social upheaval, and the value of having a voice on a major stage cannot be undersold. By itself Moonlight is just that, telling an extremely rare coming-of-age story about a young, gay black man growing up in poverty, but winning Best Picture is the equivalent of strapping on a megaphone at volume 10. Barry Jenkins' movie provides valuable insight and context to a perspective and experience that many know absolutely nothing about - and that power alone makes the film worthy of the Best Picture prize.
In the last few months, it's seemed like a lock that either La La Land or Moonlight would take home the Best Picture prize at the Oscars. And while we certainly would have been happy to see the former take the trophy, as it too was one of the best movies of the year, we also think that the right film won. Cut and dry, Moonlight is an absolutely stunning cinematic achievement, and for quality and political reasons alike, entirely deserving of the honor bestowed upon it by the Academy Awards.