The Big Oscars Mix-Up – What Really Happened?


by James Dyer |
Published on

The achievements of Viola Davis, Casey Affleck and the other honourees at last night's Oscars have by now been thoroughly overshadowed by that incident. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway called Best Picture for La La Land only for an excruciating correction to Moonlight that came a good few minutes into the La La team's acceptance speeches. Awkward. But what exactly happened?

Accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, who are responsible for safeguarding both the ballots and the winners' envelopes, officially took responsibility for the snafu, issuing the following statement: "We sincerely apologize to Moonlight, La La Land, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture. The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred. We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation."


For those watching the instant replay at home, Beatty can be clearly seen doing a double take as he opens the envelope and discovers Emma Stone's name staring back at him (a close look at the footage shows 'Actress In A Leading Role' written on the front). Realising he's been handed the wrong winner, Beatty looks off-stage several times and even plays for time as he reads out the category title, clearly looking for some kind of cue from the wings. Receiving none, he shows the card to Dunaway who, not realising anything's amiss, glances down, sees the film title and immediately declares La La Land the winner.

As Beatty squirms, Team La La Land exchange tearful hugs and climb to the stage as the orchestra — taking their cue from the announcement — play them on with the film's score. At this point, someone must have been pitching the most spectacular fit in Oscar history as they watched the whole show unravel before their eyes. Clearly there was no real contingency for this as it takes a good few minutes to send someone out to correct the error, by which point emotional acceptances are in full flow. As one producer after another delivers heartfelt thanks, a stagehand brings out the correct envelope and can be seen in the background, showing it to the 'winners'.

Oscars Mix-Up

Hats off to La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz, who stepped up and broke the news, declaring "There's a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture. This is not a joke, come up here."

Despite the cruellest bait and switch imaginable, Horowitz and the entire La La contingent handled the the situation extremely graciously, passing their gongs over to Barry Jenkins and the Moonlight team. Beatty, who was left looking mortified, clarified that it was indeed a mix-up and that he "wasn't trying to be funny."


But how did such a calamitous faux pas come about? According to a recent interview they did with Medium, the only two people who are privy to who has won what are PWC partners Martha Ruiz and Brian Cullinan. Each carries a copy of the winning envelopes in a briefcase and hands them to presenters as they go on. "I have all 24 envelopes in my briefcase; Martha has all 24 in hers," Explains Cullinan in the interview. "We stand on opposite sides of the stage, right off-screen, for the entire evening, and we each hand the respective envelope to the presenter. It doesn’t sound very complicated, but you have to make sure you’re giving the presenter the right envelope."

Yes Brian, it would seem that last point is a rather salient one. Emma Stone reportedly still has her envelope, so it was the second copy of the Best Actress envelope that was mistakenly passed to Beatty as he walked out to bestow the night's main prize. A truly monumental cock-up. How exactly it came to be handed to Beatty is unclear, as is why it took so long to correct the error or why Beatty didn't draw attention to the issue when he realised what had happened. All these things may come out in time but there's no denying it made for one of the more eventful Oscar nights we've witnessed.

If you can bear it, you can watch all seven agonising minutes of this debacle below.

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