It’s easy to understand the bafflement. As my colleague Jason Tanz pointed out recently, society has gotten awfully used to unexpected outcomes. President Trump is, well, president. The Patriots came back from a historically large deficit to beat The Falcons and win the Super Bowl. And “watching yet another sure victory dissolve into defeat,” he wrote, “contributed to a sense that the world is fundamentally lawless and unpredictable.”
Yet it was that very unpredictability that made Moonlight’s win such an amazing outcome. Ever since the Golden Globes, La La Land has been the Best Picture favorite. Moonlight was a critical darling, but the movie about good-looking white kids making it in LA—the film that got the half-joking nickname “Hollywood Handjob”—seemed like a shoo-in. La La Land being upset, at this particular moment, by a movie about a young black man coming to terms with his sexuality, seemed as likely as—well, a woman getting elected president. After #OscarsSoWhite, all would be forgiven for being surprised Moonlight won.
The mood continued after host Jimmy Kimmel threw to the local news (and the after-party coverage). The Governors Ball began, but the chatter continued. That’s not new; after just about every Oscars, someone is saying “what the fuck?” about something. When that phrase ricocheted over the spicy tuna apps and tiny servings of mac and cheese at this year’s party, though, it wasn’t hard to guess what they were talking about. Walk into the women’s restroom and it was the same thing: Were you watching? Can you believe it?
As the Ball wound down, Jenkins and Horowitz found themselves once again face to face, just as they had been on stage a little more than an hour earlier. Swarmed by paparazzi and hangers-on, they hugged. While it was impossible to understand what they said, their hand gestures got the message across. The unbelievable had happened. When Jenkins had first grabbed his Oscar he’d said “even in my dreams, this could not be true.” But as he made his way through the crowd, nothing could have been more real.