Believe it or not, the wildest moment in Oscars history is five years old. Revisit Moonlight’s unexpected victory over La La Land in 2017—and all of the chaos that came with it—with this article.
On Sunday night, Moonlight, the best movie of the past year, won the Oscar for Best Picture. It was a great outcome marked by an incredible moment: Warren Beatty, who was presenting the award, accidentally read from the envelope for Best Actress, which Emma Stone had won minutes earlier for her role in La La Land, a movie where Ryan Gosling invents jazz. Beatty balked for a second, sensing something was wrong when he opened it and saw Stone’s name and not a movie’s name, but he and Faye Dunaway eventually announced La La Land as the winner for Best Picture. The incredible moment — show personnel coming onstage to correct the mistake and then La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz announcing that Moonlight had actually won and then holding up the correct card with its name on it for everyone to see — made for a great highlight video. But it made for an even better photograph, taken by Al Seib for the Los Angeles Times:
There is a saying, and I’m sure you’re familiar with it because everyone is familiar with it, and it’s actually so clichéd that I’m almost embarrassed to write it out: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” I mention it right now because let’s do that: Let’s do exactly 1,000 words about this photo, starting now:
Busy Philipps (and Michelle Williams)
Busy Philipps is best friends with Michelle Williams, who had been nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her (great, great) showing in Manchester by the Sea. That’s why she was sitting in the front row of the Oscars on Sunday night. It was not, to my dismay, due to her trenchant and uncompromising work in 2004’s White Chicks, a movie where Shawn and Marlon Wayans wear wigs and fake breasts and white face and pretend to be white women, which is a thing that actually happened. Three things:
1. Is there any way that White Chicks could get made today? No chance, right? Or what about Jack Black’s Shallow Hal, which, GTFOH, the whole movie was about, “Whoa. What if fat people had feelings?”
2. My favorite Oscar fact: Gwyneth Paltrow costarred in Hal. That was in 2001. In 1999, she won an Oscar for Best Actress. Over a two-year period, she went from winning the most respected individual award an actress can win (for her performance in Shakespeare in Love) to a movie where she does a cannonball into a pool and a small kid gets splashed all the way up into a tree.
3. To get back to the original point, I want to make sure to state here that I am very pro–Busy Philipps. She was great on Dawson’s Creek, and her dance battle scene in White Chicks remains a charming movie moment.
Bewilderment. My main hope is that, in this exact moment, Meryl is thinking about how Moonlight winning Best Picture could have meant that all the biggest, most prestigious awards could have gone to black people this year. “Oh my,” she was possibly saying. “Moonlight won Best Picture. Mahershala won best supporting actor. Denzel should’ve won best actor. Viola should have been in the best actress category, and of course she would’ve won that. And her being in the best actress category means the best supporting actress award would’ve gone to Naomie Harris for Moonlight. Wow. It really should’ve happened that way.” That’s what I hope she was thinking about right there. And maybe she was. But maybe she was also just thinking, “What the fuck?” She seems like the type of person who would respond to seeing what she was seeing with a hearty “What the fuck,” which is to say she seems like the best kind of person.
A question for you: Would you rather — and let’s say these are the only two options available and there’s no way to get out of it and you absolutely have to do it — would you rather hang out with Casey Affleck for a week, or would you rather hang out with a box of snakes for a week? And let’s pretend it’s, like, an assortment of snakes. You don’t know what kind are in there; could be poisonous, could be constrictors, could be tiny, could be huge. And also, the box is just the delivery service. Once they arrive, you have to take them out and carry them around. You can’t just keep them in the box. They’re on your person. That’s you for a week. You’re the Snake Guy. You’re at the grocery store: handfuls of snakes. You’re at the barbershop: chair full of snakes. You go to sleep: bed full of snakes. You’re playing with your baby on the living room floor: play area full of snakes.
So what’s it going to be? Casey Affleck for a week, or the box full of snakes for a week and maybe your newborn gets bitten by a king cobra?
Casey Affleck and Matt Damon and Ben Affleck
Another question for you: Is the Casey and Matt and Ben combination the white people’s version of Death Row Records? Or is that combination the white people’s version of the Geto Boys? If they’re Death Row Records, But for White People, then that makes Ben their Suge Knight, Damon their Tupac, and Casey their Snoop Dogg, right? If they’re the Geto Boys, But for White People, then that makes Ben their Willie D, Damon their Scarface, and Casey their Bushwick Bill, right? Feels like it has to be that the combination is the Geto Boys, But for White People. That’s the direction I’m leaning.
Cheryl Boone Isaacs
Cheryl Boone Isaacs is the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is “The Academy” that actors and actresses and so on thank when they win an award. What I’m saying is she’s the one in charge, which is why she looks here like how parents look at a school play when things are going great and then their kid knocks over a piece of the set and then shouts a curse word.
[In my very best Sting voice]
How his poor heaaaaaaart aaaaaaaches, with every awaaaaaard you take.
I love the Rock so much. The best thing about him is that all of his real-life faces are also all of his movie faces, because, and I’m just guessing here, I’m fairly confident that the Rock thinks that all of the movies he’s in are really happening in real life. Like, when he was in Hercules, he was probably like, “Yo. I’m the son of Zeus. This makes so much sense.” Or when he died in The Other Guys, he was probably like, “Yo. I’m dead now,” and then he held a funeral for himself, at which he gave a very touching eulogy.
That’s probably why he looks the way he looks here. He’s not so surprised that Moonlight was the actual winner. He looks so surprised because he’s just in real awe of the way that Hollywood rebuilt itself after it got wrecked to smithereens in his movie San Andreas, which was his real-life San Andreas, during which, by the way, he made the exact same face as he’s making in the picture, because, again, all of the Rock’s real-life faces are also all of his movie faces.
I love the Rock so much.