Entertainment

What it’s like to take your son to the Oscars — and watch his movie win

Jaden Piner and Alex R Hibbert embrace as "Moonlight" wins the best picture award at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
Jaden Piner and Alex R Hibbert embrace as "Moonlight" wins the best picture award at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Invision/AP

If you ever get the chance to accompany your kid to the Oscars, you need to know a few things.

You will walk the red carpet. You probably will not sit down front next to Meryl Streep. You will need people skills to help you to talk your way backstage at a crucial moment. And if you’re really lucky, Ryan Gosling might kiss you on the cheek.

At least, that’s what happened to Natalie Piner, whose son Jaden, 13, co-starred in “Moonlight,” the film about a boy named Chiron growing up gay and black in Liberty City. Directed by Barry Jenkins and written by Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, the film made in and loved by Miami captured the Best Picture Oscar on Sunday in a bizarre chain of events that started with “La La Land” being announced as the winner.

But “Moonlight” ended up with the big prize (as well as a Best Supporting Actor award for Mahershala Ali and a Best Adapted Screenplay Award for Jenkins and McCraney).

How did Piner handle the award ceremony whiplash?

“I went hysterical,” she admits now, laughing. “I can’t put it any other way.”

Jaden, a student at Norland Middle School who played the young version of Chiron’s friend Kevin, confesses to a few mixed emotions after hearing the first announcement.

“When I found it was actually real, that we won, I was elated,” he said.

"Moonlight" - not, as it turned out, "La La Land" - won best picture at the Academy Awards in a historic Oscar upset and an unprecedented fiasco that saw one winner swapped for another while the "La La Land" producers were in mid-speech. "Moonligh

The Southeast regional human resources director for The McClatchy Company — the parent company of the Miami Herald — Piner traveled to Los Angeles with Jaden, her husband, Eric, and younger son, Jordan, almost 12. They were back at their Miami Gardens home on Tuesday, getting back to real life.

But everything was still coming up Oscars. Cameras greeted the Piners at the airport. Jaden and schoolmate Alex R. Hibbert, who plays the young Chiron, were scheduled to be honored at a Miami Heat game Wednesday night. Piner found herself on the pages of a Vogue photo gallery (in a dress by Miami designer Angel Myers).

And then there are the memories. The Piners got only two tickets to the show at the Dolby Theatre, so Eric and Jordan headed off to the watch party thrown by “Moonlight” distributor A24. Natalie and Jaden walked the red carpet, then sat in the upper reaches of the theater with “Moonlight” actors Ashton Sanders (who plays the teenage Chiron) and Jharrel Jerome (the teenage Kevin).

As the show went on, Piner realized that she wanted her son and the other young actors to be downstairs with the rest of the cast if the film managed an upset.

“We had to figure out how to get down there,” she said. “My son was like, ‘Mom why aren’t we down there? What if we win?’ Mama Bear mode popped in. We went and talked to some people. I said, ‘This is the cast from “Moonlight,” they need to be down there!’ 

My son was like, ‘Mom why aren’t we down there? What if we win?’ Mama Bear mode popped in. We went and talked to some people. I said, ‘This is the cast from “Moonlight,” they need to be down there!’

Natalie Piner, on trying to get her son Jaden and two other ‘Moonlight’ actors in the front of Dolby Theatre before the Best Picture announcement

A woman finally told her that there would be a two-minute break before Best Picture was announced, and a man offered to walk the boys down then. That left Piner on her own in the lobby. She quickly befriended a few fellow “Moonlight” fans — “I needed to be with people who were for ‘Moonlight’ ” she said — and they settled around a TV.

And then the sound dropped out.

Piner and her new friends heard the words “La La Land,” and immediately groaned. Then, like everyone else on the planet still watching the broadcast, came the confusion, disbelief and shock. It wasn’t until “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz held up the card naming “Moonlight” the winner to the cameras that she realized what had happened.

“I run up this ramp to see where my son is,” she said. “I go back, and I’m shaking by this time. I’m trying to get pictures, I’m thinking ‘I need to capture this moment!’ 

Fortunately one of her new Team “Moonlight” friends was part of the production company that did artistic design for the Academy Awards. She told Piner: “You’ve got to be with your son,” and she sneaked Piner backstage in time to see the cast walk off stage.

“You could still see shock on their faces,” Piner said. “The ‘La La Land’ people were coming off. I’m crying hysterically. I saw Tarell, his face. I saw each one. I just grabbed each one, I’m holding the camera and I’m hugging each person as they’re coming by. You could see that shock. We don’t know where to go, which direction to go in. The boys are super excited. Ashton and Jharrel are in tears. They were overwhelmed. They said: ‘We were not even going to be on that level!’ Jharrel said he texted his mom, ‘I’m really sad right now … wait, hold up.’ 

Speaking of holding up: On the chaotic video Piner shot on her phone, you can hear her ask, “How do my eyes look?”

“I knew I was going to have to get in some pictures,” she said.

Piner had only good things to say about the “La La Land” cast, including star Ryan Gosling, who congratulated her and kissed her on the cheek.

“They were the spirit of graciousness,” she said. “They were appreciative that the underdog did win.”

The whole experience was eye-opening to her son.

“Just stepping foot on the red carpet having stars greeting me instead of me greeting them was amazing,” said Jaden, who met a slew of celebrities, including Halle Berry and Samuel L. Jackson.

But beyond the glitz and the lights and the long-shot thrill of winning Best Picture, Piner also understands the more important aspects of “Moonlight”: The film tells the story of a community usually ignored in the movies.

“It shows the positive side of a community that has a history that gets lost with the violence that goes on there,” she said. “It brings back some of that value we know is there. All of us know the dangers of Liberty City, yet when you go there you find people who care. That’s the story that’s not being told, the people we’re not getting to meet. That’s happening now. Finally we get to bring it to light.”

Natalie Piner — mom to Jaden Piner, one of the Miami stars of ‘Moonlight’ — accompanied her son to the Academy Awards. Here is a clip from backstage moments after the best picture award.

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