Berger wasn’t about to stick around to figure out what exactly happened — and who could blame him? It was an embarrassing situation.
But amid the confusion, there was one person willing to take charge and explain, even though he had just given an acceptance speech for a career-defining award he did not actually win.
Horowitz marched up to the microphone to make an announcement.
“ ‘Moonlight’ won,” he declared.
“Guys, guys, I’m sorry. No. There’s a mistake,” Horowitz added. “ ‘Moonlight,’ you guys won best picture.”
“This is not a joke,” he continued.
“Come up here,” he commanded, motioning for the “Moonlight” team to come to the stage and collect the top Oscar that Horowitz briefly thought his film had just won.
While the people in the audience were gasping with surprise, Horowitz — as if to assure them this wasn’t fake news — held up the card just pulled from the correct award envelope, so that the cameras could zoom in.
“ ‘Moonlight,’ ” he said. “Best picture.”
Host Jimmy Kimmel looked as if he wanted to be anywhere but on an Oscars stage at that moment.
He tried to make some jokes. The host said he wished that “La La Land” and “Moonlight” could win — but Horowitz wasn’t having it.
“I’m going to be really thrilled to hand this to my friends from ‘Moonlight,’ ” he said.
Horowitz wasn’t just a gracious loser; he became the closest thing the Oscars can get to a folk hero.
It’s funny, right? Because what he did wasn’t exactly revolutionary. He told the truth even though it was difficult and awkward and embarrassing, because he had just stood in front of the world and thanked his friends and family for an award that wasn’t his.
Horowitz could have slunk offstage and let Kimmel and Warren Beatty continue to fumble through an explanation.
Instead he did the dirty work with what looked like pride, sticking around to hug his friends from “Moonlight.”
This kind of behavior shouldn’t be all that exceptional, but truth has been hard to come by lately. We’ve just come off an election in which politicians have happily danced around facts, and the president continues to make false and misleading claims.
When the truth is inconvenient, a lot of people spin it or bend it to their will. But that, apparently, is not Horowitz’s style.
Now that Horowitz has been thrust into the spotlight, he’s received a massive outpouring of support — and he was interviewed Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” calling the episode a “surreal moment.” But he doesn’t want people to lose sight of what’s important.
“I want to make sure that we’re all talking about the fact that a $1.5 million picture about gay black youth in America won best picture at the Academy Awards,” Horowitz told The Washington Post by phone Monday. “That’s a pretty sensational thing.”
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He had just given a speech about wanting to do more bold and diverse work, he said — so it seemed appropriate somehow that he was able then to hand off his award to such a bold, diverse movie.
There’s no need to spend any more time talking about what he did last night, Horowitz insisted.
“That moment on stage was not about anything but moving the spotlight to where it should have rightfully been,” he said.
Besides, what he did was all just part of the job.
“In a crisis, [producers] are levelheaded and decisive, and I try to operate from a place of doing what’s right on a moment-to-moment basis,” he said. “There was a real breakdown of process, and setting it right was in my mind the only option.”
“All I know is there was a moment when I knew and it needed to be corrected,” he added. “There was just so much confusion. I think people needed to see that piece of paper. There needed to be some real definitive clarity and truth in that moment.”
During awards season, the “La La Land” and “Moonlight” producers became close. They’ve been on the road together since both of their movies screened at the Telluride Film Festival.
“I said it last night, I’ll say it again: I love those guys,” Horowitz said. “This awards-circuit thing is a grind. It’s a real full-time job, but we’re spending a lot of time together. All those guys, I would call them friends, and it needed to be fixed for them, too, as much as anybody.”
Backstage, after one of the most shocking moments in Oscar history, “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins told reporters that “the folks from ‘La La Land’ were so gracious. I can’t imagine being in their position and having to do that. … I wasn’t speechless because we won. I was speechless because I — it was so gracious of them to do that.”
When Horowitz was a victor, he seemed like a nice-enough guy.
But as a loser, he showed what a champion for truth looks like.
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This post has been updated.