In a matter of seconds, “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins’ friends, collaborators, former teachers, and students experienced disappointment, confusion, and total jubilation Sunday night during the official “Moonlight” Oscar party in Liberty City, Miami.
After “La La Land” was mistakenly announced as the winner, a snafu in the live feed at the outdoor block party led to even more confusion. “The thing that’s insane about being here is that the whole thing glitched out, it’s overwhelming,” said Daniel Soto, a volunteer with the Borscht Film Festival, which co-presented the party with A24 and the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, where Jenkins held auditions to find the film’s stunning young actors.
“Every ounce of skepticism in my body wants to deny it,” said Soto. “I have no idea how to process this. We’re not used to it.”
The block party was the final event of the weekend of the Borscht Film Festival, a small, experimental festival with a reputation for producing daring and high-quality work, including that of Jenkins. Festival founder Lucas Levya and collaborator Andrew Hevia also introduced Jenkins to McCraney, having worked with both artists on separate projects.
The win, and subsequent conclusion, elegantly capped a weekend spent showcasing the vibrancy and boldness of young Miami-based artists and filmmakers who follow in Jenkins’ now-legendary footsteps.
After “La La Land” was announced, the deflated crowd tuned out as volume went out on the feed and event organizers instructed everyone to go home. It was not until the moment that “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz held up the card reading “Moonlight,” and the camera zoomed in, that the crowd erupted in cheers and bum rushed the screen. At that moment, possibly due to crowd interference, the feed cut to an error message: “No Signal.” The feed briefly re-connected to show Jenkins onstage at the microphone for another few seconds, eliciting another round of cheers.
The two moments were enough to cause celebration, but left many questions as the crowd frantically tried to piece the story together. “The white guy, he had Emma Stone’s card by accident, so he just called it. That’s why he didn’t say it, he gave it to the white lady!” said “Moonlight” actor Edson Jean, who played the role of Mr. Pierce. Of the historic win, Jean said: “It’s great for Miami arts, Miami work. It’s going to continue to cultivate work down here.”
Local actor Isaac Beverly, who auditioned for “Moonlight” and nearly landed the pivotal role of the bully, concurred. “It’s gonna bring so much to Miami,” he said. “I was already talking to a producer from [Miami-based film collective] Borscht yesterday, and they told me that they’re looking for new independent filmmakers from the Miami scene, so now I feel opportunity is gonna come and we just gotta be ready for it.”
“This is a testament to Barry Jenkins,” added Don-Dimetri Joseph, who made it through three rounds of auditions for the film. “They could have gone through agencies, big film, they got a lot of people backing them, but they went to the community. This was word of mouth.”
A group of students from screenwriter Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s alma mater, New World School of the Arts, were in shock. “We’re just very happy. Very confused,” said Trevor Bazile, a young black filmmaker who spoke warmly and openly about what the win meant. “When he talks about telling our stories, he’s talking to us directly. The fact that we couldn’t really see what’s going on is leaving us pretty choked, ’cause we’re in this emotionally.”
Soto, a fellow Borscht volunteer, interjected: “Think about how many people are going to watch ‘Moonlight’ after this. This was like the cherry on top, because everyone here knows what that movie means. The fact that ‘La La Land’ and ‘Moonlight’ were kind of pitted against each other, and the whole switch up, this is gonna create a conversation that I don’t even know where it’ll go or how constructive it’ll actually be.”
Nerissa Street, a filmmaker and artist who teaches filmmaking to young girls in the area, was emotional about what the film’s big win would mean for her students. “I was scared, I’ll tell you, I was scared. When I think about the landscape of America right now… We can produce quality work, we’re just doing it with our tiny cameras. We just need the opportunity.”