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Glittering Prizes

by Ross Douthat

The disaster that overtook this year’s Oscar telecast in its closing moments, like so many strange events of the last two years, seemed almost scripted in its wild implausibility. The Best Picture battle pitted La La Land, the effervescent Hollywood musical that’s made a cool $400 million worldwide, against Moonlight, the distilled essence of an arthouse film, about a gay black ghetto kid coming of age in Miami. It was a fraught contest: A win for La La Land would continue Hollywood’s pattern of self-referential Oscar winners but also crown a movie that people had actually attended; a win for Moonlight would elevate art over commerce, redeem the Oscars from their sins against intersectionality, and send a message against intolerance and Donald Trump.

Naturally they both won. Or rather, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, and PricewaterhouseCoopers — respectively icons of a prior generation’s Hollywood and custodians of the Oscar rituals and brand — contrived to accidentally bestow the statue on La La Land, before it was revealed that no, actually Moonlight was the winner. The people online who immediately discerned a (racist?) conspiracy to undercut the Moonlight moment were wrong . . . but on a deeper, subconscious level maybe they were right. It was as if one model of what the Oscars should be — a celebration of stars and cinematic spectacle — had reached out and tried to stop another model, more artsy and politicized and narrowcasted, from sweeping in and taking over.

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