Norland Middle School, community celebrate Oscar win for ‘Moonlight’

MIAMI GARDENS, FLA. (WSVN) - Students at a Miami Gardens middle school who took part in “Moonlight,” a film rooted in Liberty City that pulled off a Best Picture upset at the Oscars, Sunday night, celebrated the surprise win along with the rest of their community.

The African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, located at 6161 N.W. 22nd Ave., was among some of the South Florida venues to host viewing parties during Sunday’s 89th Oscars. Cheers echoed outside the arts center when director Barry Jenkins’ film was correctly announced after a historic blunder.

Related: ‘Moonlight’ wins best picture at botched Academy Awards

Local residents flocked to the viewing party to show their support for the coming-of-age tale about Chiron (played at different ages by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes), a gay black man, and his journey of self-discovery in Liberty City.

Young Chiron, played by Alex Hibbert
Young Chiron, played by Alex Hibbert

Some in attendance at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center felt inspired Miami-grown playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s story, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” the basis for “Moonlight.”

“You can come from almost anywhere and prosper,” said Miami native Dontay Yarns. “Just — put your mind to it, and you can basically do it.”

“I was proud to hear that someone from the area did something this big,” said an unnamed viewer.

Earlier in the telecast, Jenkins and McCraney accepted the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. “Two boys from Liberty City are up here on this stage, representing 305,” said McCraney.

Norland Middle School, the home of actors Jaden Piner, who plays 9-year-old Kevin, and Hibbert, were all smiles, Monday morning, after seeing their hometown get recognized during Hollywood’s biggest award show.

Principal Ronald Redmon was full of pride for his students for their well-deserved and historic win. “It was just so surreal to see those kids really perform and to see the great thing that they did. I mean, the emotion that just overcame everybody. I just felt so good about it,” he said. “I am so proud, so proud of all of them.”

Hibbert and Piner, who were in Los Angeles for the ceremony, stood onstage with the rest of the “Moonlight” cast and crew as they accepted the top prize of the night.

The boys described the initial shock after finding out their film was the real Best Picture winner in the end. “It was an amazing night. At first we thought they were like joking us,” said Hibbert, “because they were all like, ”Moonlight’ won,’ and we were all like, ‘Nice joke, nice joke.’ But then they were like, ‘No, we’re serious. ‘Moonlight’ won,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, my God!'”

Piner picked up the story from there. “Me and Ashton jumped over the ledge just to go to the stage, not really knowing that it was true yet,” he said. “We just jumped over the stage. I mean, [we were] ready.”

“I was like, ‘Oh, my God,’ I can’t believe it. Look at them,'” said Rachel Hinds, one of 12 Norland students who played extras in “Moonlight.”

Hibbert and Piner later posed for a picture with their drama teacher, Tanisha Cidel, who played a school principal in the film.

Redmon said he knows how hard his students worked on the film. “To see them, the excitement they had and the feeling that they had – I know they worked so hard, and they wanted this movie to be so successful, so it was really good to see one of your own on stage,” he said.

7News cameras captured several of the extras in a classroom, Monday afternoon.

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One of them said it felt great to be a part of an Oscar-winning film. “Inspirational to be in the film that’s from Miami,” he said.

“It’s an amazing experience, just being a part of something so big,” said extra Nyomi Ramjohn.

Fellow extra Ty’Ere Washington said he was shocked by the last-minute twist at the end of the telecast that gave the locally produced film its Best Picture win. “When they said, ‘Oh, my mistake, it was ‘Moonlight,’ I felt so happy,” he said.

Actor Patrick Decile, who plays Terrel, a boy who bullies Chiron in the movie, returned to South Florida, Monday morning, still overwhelmed by the moments that unfolded just a few hours ago. “[I said], ‘What? What?'” he said.

Terrel, played by Patrick Decile
Terrel, played by Patrick Decile

Decile’s family said seeing their son’s success is unbelievable. “Oh, my goodness, it’s amazing,” said his mother, Destina Decile. “They worked really hard on the film. They tried to represent Miami, and I’m proud of them.”

“I’m grateful to be a part of such a welcoming cast and crew,” said Patrick. “They made me feel like family. It’s just still surreal with what went on just two hours ago. It was just a big flip for everyone.”

“Moonlight” also picked up a Supporting Actor statuette for co-star Mahershala Ali.

Redmon said both Piner and Hibbert are expected back in class on Tuesday. The school will be hosting a celebration of “Moonlight’s” Oscar victory on Wednesday.

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