A celebrated film about a boy growing up gay, black and poor in Miami, “Moonlight,” virtually swept the night, taking best feature, best screenplay, a special jury award for best ensemble and the audience award. The Gothams, which honor independent film, are essentially the kick-off to Hollywood’s long awards season.
Monday night’s ceremony, hosted in Manhattan by Keegan-Michael Key, also served as the first opportunity for the film industry — or at least a sizable chunk of its more East Coast, indie contingent – to formally gather since the election. It gave much of Hollywood (which overwhelmingly backed Hillary Clinton) a chance to commiserate over drinks, try out punchlines and make a rallying cry for art’s political power.
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Key, half of the former Comedy Central duo “Key and Peele,” opened, with deadpan sarcasm, with what he said was a 4-week-old monologue.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are so grateful that we live in a country that celebrates diversity,” said Key. Later, he gave up the guise and spoke earnestly. “Our voices need to be heard now,” he said.
The string of awards had the “Moonlight” cast — which features newcomers Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders and Alex R. Hibbert playing the young protagonist in three chapters — frequently dancing arm-in-arm while the Gotham crowd stood to applaud.
Though “Moonlight,” based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, has some big-name backers (Brad Pitt’s Plan B produced it), Jenkins played the role of the underdog.
“When I made this film, I thought five people would watch it,” Jenkins said. In limited release, the low-budged “Moonlight” has already made $8.5 million, making it one of the year’s biggest indie hits.
Other top awards went to Casey Affleck, who won best actor for his performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea,” which opens in South Florida Friday, and Isabelle Huppert, whose turn in Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle” took best actress over favorites such as Natalie Portman (“Jackie”) and Annette Bening (”20th Century Women”).
The Gothams, presented by the Independent Filmmaker Project, aren’t historically a good Oscar predictor. But their last two top film picks, “Spotlight” and “Birdman,” did go on to triumph at the Academy Awards.