Film & Television

Academy Awards 2017: The Oscars That Launched a Thousand Tweets

The first award of the evening made history, Best Supporting Actor being awarded to Mahershala Ali for his wonderful work in Moonlight. As many on Twitter (and elsewhere) noted, African-American Ali is the first Muslim actor to ever win an Oscar. The next major award was presented to Viola Davis as Best Supporting Actress for Fences. In her phenomenal acceptance speech, she praised her director and costar Denzel Washington (“Captain, my captain”) for telling untold stories. “Exhume those stories — the stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost.” Her speech prompted the National Endowment for the Arts to Tweet #MondayMotivation, and Kimmel to quip, “Viola Davis just won an Emmy for that speech.”

Another powerful moment for women, African Americans and human beings, was when the three stars of Hidden Figures (nominated for three Oscars, but with no wins), Taraji Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer, were joined by one of the real women they had portrayed. Katherine Johnson, the 98-year old former NASA mathematician received a standing ovation, prompting the hashtag #BlackGirlMagic.

On the other hand, Casey Affleck’s win over Denzel Washington prompted Twitter outrage. Although Affleck paid tribute to Washington in his acceptance speech, many felt that the Fences star was robbed, and there was a resurgence of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag along with screen grabs of various Oscar audience members who seemed disgruntled, including category presenter Brie Larson.

Emma Stone, as expected but arguably not entirely deserving, won Best Actress. Immensely earnest and likeable, Stone’s win generated less vitriol than Affleck’s. But there were still those who felt her natural charisma is more impressive than her actual acting chops. And, naturally, they Tweeted about it. But, the actress appeared unscathed. Stone, along with fellow nominee Natalie Portman, were among the high-profile actors who participated in a pre-taped “Mean Tweets Oscar Edition” sketch midway through the awards, reading some nasty posts from non-fans. Stone’s was “Emma Stone looks like she’s a crack whore in every role she plays.” She shrugged and said, “Hmm, great.”

Damian Chazelle won Best Director for La La Land, leading some (including myself) to assume that the much-lauded musical would also pick up Best Picture. And, when the time came, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, with some confusion and a pause more pregnant than missing nominee Portman, did indeed announce La La Land as the winner. With the entire cast and crew onstage, and after 2.5 grateful acceptance speeches, it was revealed that a mistake had been made. Moonlight had actually earned the top prize. Apparently, Beatty had been given the wrong envelope (the card inside read Emma Stone, Best Actress, La La Land).

Mayhem ensued.

Not really. In fact, the blunder resulted in a toss-up over which team had more class. Jordan Horowitz from La La Land immediately urged the Moonlight nominees to come onstage as soon as the error was discovered. “Really,” he assured them, “This isn’t a joke.” As the teams switched places, Moonlight’s director Barry Jenkins virtually pinched himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming, before he said, “We’ve been on the road with these guys for so long, and that was so gracious, and so generous of them. My love to La La Land, my love to everybody.” Moonlight’s Adele Romanski, whose co-producer Dede Gardner is the first female to win two Best Picture Oscars, continued, saying “It is so humbling to be standing up here with hopefully still the ‘La La’ crew.” She then explained that her film is dedicated to all the “people, little black boys and brown girls and other folks watching at home who feel marginalized.”

The mistake was handled with dignity all around, but — as you’ve probably guessed — Twitter went wild. Tweets ranged from blaming Putin, to demands for recalling other winner envelopes, to shout-outs to Steve Harvey, who famously misread a beauty pageant winner’s name a few years ago. Rival network CBS Tweeted that it was a “stunning error.” (The Awards, as you may know, were broadcast on ABC.)

Regardless of why and how it happened (for the time being, the buck seems to be stopping at PriceWaterhouseCoopers), it certainly made for an unusually grand finale. On social media and off.

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  • Mary Bailey February 28, 2017 at 8:52 am

    In her rousing acceptance speech, Viola Davis did thank Denzel Washington profusely. But her highest acclaim went not to him but to August Wilson, the writer of “Fences” and a 12-play cycle about disenfranchised people whose lives and dreams have not been part of movie culture until now.

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    • Alexandra MacAaron February 28, 2017 at 11:17 am

      You’re right! She absolutely did! “So, here’s to August Wilson, who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people.” She also acknowledged him when she won the Tony 7 years ago. (He had passed away 5 years before.) “To August Wilson, I think it’s so fitting that the play ends with Gabriel opening up the gates of heaven.” The wonderful thing is that with the critical, commercial and now award success of “Fences,” we can look forward to more of Wilson’s plays being adapted for the screen!

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