Good things come in small packages and great movies come with small price tags. Or at least it would be easy to think so following Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony when, after an already-legendary bit of confusion, La La Land Moonlight was named the year’s Best Picture. But that was hardly its only achievement. In addition to its star, Mahershala Ali, being the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar, director/co-writer Barry Jenkins became the first black American filmmaker to direct a Best Picture-winning film—and he did it on the cheap. Shot on a budget of just $1.5 million, Moonlight is officially the lowest-budget film to ever win a Best Picture Oscar.
The film is a deeply moving and complex story about a conflicted young man who is struggling with his cultural and sexual identity amidst a tumultuous family life growing up in Miami’s Liberty City. Told in three parts, each one at a different stage in life, Jenkins’s movie—which is based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue—is ambitious, to be sure. Yet he managed to shoot the film, which was nominated for a total of eight Oscars (three of which it won), for just $1.5 million. To put that into perspective, IndieWire wrote that the film “cost less than a 30-second ad during the Oscars (reported price: $2.2 million). And, among the category’s 89 winners, it stands as the lowest-budgeted film in the Academy Awards’ history.”