Moonlight‘s surprise win on Sunday night was a shared-stage moment, a tantalizing suggestion that we were perhaps living in an alternate timeline. “Did the Oscars just prove that we are living in a computer simulation?” asks Adam Gopnik at The New Yorker, only half as a joke. “Since the advance of intelligence seems like the one constant among living things—and since living things are far likelier than not to be spread around the universe—then one of the things that smart living things will do is make simulations of other universes in which to run experiments.”
Fantastic. But in the mix-up, Moonlight also became more moment than movie. Its win will forever be tied up in a mistake, and the media fallout became an epic test of graciousness—who was more kind, more giving, more sportsmanlike in loss and more deferring in triumph.
Variety released its annual Oscar cover today, in which Barry Jenkins and Damien Chazelle attempt to squeeze through a doorway clearly meant for one. As Ira Madison notes in this Twitter thread, the post-awards Variety cover often features a prominent Oscar winner, possibly best director or best cinematographer, relaxed and happy with their shiny new award.
The double winners instead confirmed the post-Oscar narrative that Jenkins would be forever trapped in a game of after-you with Damien Chazelle, even as he picked up two Oscars to Chazelle’s one. While it’s clear the two directors have nothing but respect for each other, the morning-after interview is also nothing but respect, a back-and-forth of glad-handing compliments.
“Moonlight᾿s win is historic and should be treated as such but instead, we have to hear about white grace,” writes Madison. And in an alternate universe, Jenkins would have had his moment, he would have given his speech without any interruptions, and he would have walked through the doorway alone.