In milestone for black film, Moonlight wins Best Picture Oscar after stunning error

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Veteran actor and filmmaker Warren Beatty accidentally announces the winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture as La La Land, before the award is correctly given to Moonlight.
(From left) Jeremy Kleiner, Adele Romanski and Barry Jenkins posing backstage with their Best Picture Award for Moonlight. PHOTO: REUTERS
Producer Adele Romanski (centre) speaking as the cast and crew of Moonlight celebrate after it won the Best Film award at the 89th Oscars, on Feb 26, 2017, in Hollywood, California. PHOTO: AFP
La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz (left) shows the card reading Best Film Moonlight next to US actor Warren Beatty after the latter mistakingly read La La Land initially. PHOTO: AFP
Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway presenting for Best Picture. PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (Reuters, Bloomberg, NYTimes) - Moonlight, a drama about a gay black youth coming to terms with his sexuality in an impoverished Miami neighbourhood, received the Oscar for Best Picture on Sunday after a stunning, unprecedented flub in which presenters erroneously announced the musical La La Land as the winner.

The cast and creative team for La La Land had already taken the stage to begin delivering acceptance speeches when one of the producers interrupted the proceedings to say that the award had been given to the wrong movie, and that Moonlight was the real victor.

He then held up the envelope to the camera to prove it was true.

Everyone wondered if it was a joke. But it was not, and the La La Land people quickly exited the stage as producers and stars of Moonlight, just as stunned as everyone else, walked on.

Actor-director Warren Beatty and actress Faye Dunaway had presented the Best Picture award. When Beatty opened the envelope, he took an extended pause before showing the card to Dunaway, who then announced La La Land as the winner.

"I want to tell you what happened," Beatty said in the chaotic moments after Moonlight was announced as the winner. "I opened the envelope, and it said "Emma Stone, La La Land." That's why I took such a long look at Faye and at you. I wasn't trying to be funny. This is Moonlight, the best picture."

"It is true. It's not fake," said Moonlight director Barry Jenkins. "My love to La La Land, my love to everybody.".

It was the first time in living memory that such a major mistake had been made at the Academy Awards, Hollywood's biggest night. "Is that the craziest Oscar moment of all time?" Stone, who won the Best Actress Oscar for her La La Land role, told reporters backstage. "It's a very strange happening for Oscar history."

"I think everyone is in a state of confusion... and so excited for Moonlight," Stone added, saying it was "one of the best films of all time."

"Well, I don't know what happened," the Oscars host, Jimmy Kimmel, said. "I blame myself for this. Let's remember it's just an award show, we hate to see people disappointed but we got to see some extra speeches."

Moonlight also won statuettes for Best Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actor.

La La Land, distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp and which had 14 nominations, won six Oscars, including Best Director for Damien Chazelle, who at 32 is the youngest to win the award. Casey Affleck won Best Actor for Manchester By The Sea.

Moonlight's win was a crowning achievement for African-American film-makers after two years of controversy over institutional racism in Hollywood.

Instead of the retro musical La La Land, a coming-of-age film about a black man, distributed by tiny A24, was Sunday night's big winner.

Oscar voters also honoured black actors Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) and Viola Davis (Fences) for both supporting-actor categories. Both were two of six black actors nominated for an Academy Award after two years when people of colour were snubbed.

Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney won for adapted screenplay for Moonlight, the first time multiple African-American writers have received an Oscar in the same year. "This goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and all those non-gender-conforming," McCraney said. "This is to all of you."

A lack of diversity remains an issue in front of and behind the camera, and the #OscarsSoWhite Twitter campaign of the last two years clearly bruised Hollywood, normally known as a bastion of liberalism.

The presidential election of Mr Donald Trump, a Republican, in November also gave this year's awards ceremony special significance, since actors such as Meryl Streep have directly drawn the president's ire for using their celebrity to make political statements.

"Thank you, President Trump," Kimmel said in his opening monologue. "Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist? That's gone, thanks to him."

That was one of several jokes at the president's expense, including several entreaties by Kimmel for Mr Trump to tweet about the proceedings. As of the end of the ceremony, he had not obliged.

Few other presenters or winners made overt political statements. Ruth Negga, nominated for her role in Loving, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the musical Hamilton, were among actors wearing a blue ribbon Sunday night in support of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has battled Mr Trump's immigration restrictions in court.

Meanwhile, Miranda was denied his chance to win an EGOT on Sunday. Just 12 people have completed the sweep of winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.

Miranda, who has three Tonys, two Grammys and an Emmy and who was nominated in the Oscars' Best Original Song category for How Far I'll Go from Moana, had the chance to fill in his missing Oscar. No such luck. City Of Stars from La La Land took the prize.

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