Moonlight won. Some other things happened. But Moonlight won the ultimate prize.

The many people proclaiming Moonlight‘s win as unprecedented are wrong in some respects. They are right that never has a movie so gay and so black won the top prize. But the Academy has awarded low-budget urban character studies before, from Marty to Rocky. Everyone loves a good underdog story.

Moonlight was made for $1.5M. It had the lowest box office of any Best Picture nominee. It was such a long shot, it made La La Land look like a juggernaut.

Why Did Moonlight Win Best Picture?

Even though it was a small film, Moonlight was made with an incredible level of craft. The screenplay is personal, emotional and beautifully structured. The performances are pitch-perfect, including three central performances from newcomers that seamlessly blend into each other. The production design evokes the real Miami and the tactile cinematography elevates it to a magical and cinematic level. The sensitive editing paced the scenes and the performances expertly, and the ethereal score made the audience feel what the inexpressive main character could not say.

La La Land, the frontrunner going into the final category, is a movie that is divisive. Moonlight is a film that everyone at least likes. It may not have been #1 on many ballots, but I would bet it wasn’t #8 or #9 on many either. The ranked voting system the Academy uses for Best Picture may have given it the advantage it needed. La La Land — which had a record-tying number of nominations, and which had just won Best Cinematography, Best Director and Best Actress — also had its share of haters. In the weeks leading up to the vote, it became fashionable to signal virtue by pointing out the awkwardness of casting whitebread Ryan Gosling as a savior of jazz’s (historically Black) legacy.

But you don’t need La La Land haters nor the Academy’s recent efforts to diversify its membership to explain Moonlight‘s win. The movie is good. The movie is worthy. Everywhere there has been shock because it is so rare that the Best Picture winner agrees with critical filmgoer taste. I used to link to a blog called The Oscars Are Always Wrong, which meticulously listed the nominees for each year and explained who should have won the awards. Unlike the year where Crash beat Brokeback Mountain, I don’t think we’ll be hearing moaning about this result decades later. The Oscars are not always wrong. This time, the Oscars were right.

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