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Has The Academy Awards Turned A Page On #OscarsSoWhite?


All right, given how closely guarded those envelopes are at the Oscars, it seems impossible to figure out how this happened last night. "La La Land" was announced for best picture. The people who made the movie were up there giving their acceptance speeches. Then there was a commotion, and "La La Land" producer Jordan Horowitz came to the mic.


JORDAN HOROWITZ: Guys - I'm sorry, no.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: There was a mistake.

HOROWITZ: There's a mistake. "Moonlight," you guys won best picture.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: "Moonlight" won.

GREENE: Horowitz's film had not won after all. There had been a mix-up with the envelopes. A stunned but happy Barry Jenkins, "Moonlight's" director, took over.


BARRY JENKINS: Very clearly, even in my dreams, this could not be true. But to hell with dreams. I'm done with it because this is true. Oh, my goodness.

GREENE: It was the third Oscar of the evening for "Moonlight," which has a cast full of black actors and also a black director. Mahershala Ali, for "Moonlight," won best supporting actor. And all this comes, of course, as Hollywood has been under heavy criticism for having a diversity problem.

We spoke this morning with Cheo Hodari Coker. He is a screenwriter and the creator of the Netflix series "Luke Cage." We began with the crazy flub-up with the envelopes.

CHEO HODARI COKER: After watching this telecast and - well, at least the ending - oh, my gosh. Watching it live, the only thing I can liken it to is almost, like, one of the most shocking-feeling live sporting events. I've just never seen a live event where the emotional swings - it was just stunning.

And it was interesting because, on one hand, "Moonlight" is one of these, like, generational pictures that you wanted to see win. But at the same time, if "La La Land" had won, I completely understood. And I just kind of - it was one of those moments where it's like - the snafu was just awful. You really had to feel for them being up there because - you have to understand, like, the Academy Awards for people in Hollywood is like the Super Bowl, the presidential inauguration and winning the NBA championship rolled up into one (laughter).

GREENE: This would be like standing there holding up the Vince Lombardi trophy and celebrating winning the Super Bowl and then being told you actually didn't win the Super Bowl.

COKER: Exactly. You know, I was just really happy to see Barry and Mahershala and everyone else involved with "Moonlight" get their moment. But that moment was tarnished because it was - the transition was just so stunning. "Moonlight" was really robbed of that. And I feel bad for them from the standpoint of not being able to, in front of the biggest stage in the world, being able to accept their due props.

GREENE: You said the word tarnished. Is "Moonlight's" victory here really tarnished?

COKER: No, the victory's not tarnished. You know, "Moonlight" deserves best picture. What I mean by tarnished is the moment - being able to be in front of all your peers and being able to thank everyone involved and particularly when it's a movie that has some pivotal social relevance, like "Moonlight," particularly in a time where, with this new transitional government, LGBT rights are just being stripped. This win means something.

GREENE: I've wondered, too, about the diversity. I mean, so much has been made about Hollywood's diversity problem. Here, you have a director who's African-American, a cast largely African-American. You have Mahershala Ali, who I know you work with in your series "Luke Cage," winning an award for his performance. How far does this go in confronting Hollywood's diversity problem?

COKER: Well, it's - one picture and one win cannot right a million wrongs. It's a step in the right direction. We have to get to a point where a movie like "Moonlight" winning or Barry Jenkins being nominated and winning, you know, for a screenplay or being nominated for best director - that it's just commonplace. They shouldn't be a novelty.

GREENE: You want to get to a place where you and I are not even having this conversation about race if a movie like "Moonlight" wins.

COKER: Exactly. I mean, we should only be talking about the merits of film because one of the great things about the visual language is that it is the great equalizer. And one's ability to communicate a story visually, honestly, is a bridge of communication that transcends language because the true mark of a good film is that you can turn the sound off and watch it and have some understanding of what you're seeing. And that's why film travels around the world.

GREENE: Cheo Hodari Coker is a movie screenwriter and creator of the Netflix series "Luke Cage," speaking to us about "Moonlight's" win for best picture at the Oscars last night.

Thanks so much for talking to us.

COKER: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRELOW'S "MISTAKES LIKE THIS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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