Two Very Different Award-Winning Movies Reflect Our Times

In the last few days, I was pleased to see both Oscar winning films La La Land and Moonlight. As you may be aware, both movies won big at the Oscars a few weeks back. However, the reality of how the evening played out was a near disaster for the Academy because an error occurred in the presentation of its most important award category, the Oscar for Best Picture. Prior to the award presentation by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, a consultant allegedly was tweeting instead of making sure the winning card was accurately selected and passed on to the presenters. At first, La La Land was mistakenly awarded best picture instead of Moonlight, which had been selected by voters. Four minutes later, after the La La Land cast and crew gave its joyful acceptance speeches one after the other, a courageous La La Land producer, Jordan Horowitz, took charge and announced that Moonlight was the actual winner. He invited the Moonlight group to come up and claim their rightful award.

Sometimes, real life is so dramatic that it surpasses art itself. The most dreaded error in the history of the awards show had happened. That’s when Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney came up and delivered brief and humble acceptance speeches for Moonlight, the story of Chiron, a young gay black boy who grows up in the Miami projects. The film follows him into his early adult life. As a boy he is bullied at school, has a single parent struggling with addictions, and has a hunger for positive parental figures which drives him to form a healthy bond to a caring couple in the community. In adolescence, even though the bullying continues, he begins to discover his emerging power as a person of value – but then gets arrested for assaulting one of his bullies. He goes on to suppress his honest sexual feelings to become a physically powerful and eventual drug dealer in the community. In La La Land the two lead characters achieve their dream careers, both nurtured by each other, family, and friends. This is in contrast to the adult Chiron in Moonlight, who finally at the film’s conclusion barely begins to honestly grapple with what he really wants as a person in both work and love. Comparing metrics of success regarding where the characters are at in their life trajectories by the end of these two movies is staggering and gives pause for thinking.

Moonlight was the clear winner for Best Picture and won a total of 3 Oscars. La La Land won 6 Academy Awards and was nominated for 14. I find it reassuring that these two impactful movies can both be key winners at the same time. Maybe we can enjoy a story of personal fulfillment in La La Land, and then we can challenge ourselves with another reality of how marginalized young people grow up with enormous challenges and frequently end up with little possibility for achieving their own American dream.

In these times, I continue to admire our collective capacity for both joy as well as for empathy of the less fortunate, both inspiring us towards personal evolution. In this real life story of a workplace error, the winners of both movies demonstrated grace, humility, and generosity of spirit at the 89th Academy Awards of 2017.

I recommend you see both movies and see what you think.


La La Land. Dir. Damien Chazelle. 2016

Moonlight. Dir. Barry Jenkings. 2016.


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