There was chaos for a few moments last night when Oscar history was made following the announcement of the wrong winner for Best Picture.
Famous leading man Warren Beatty began, “For Best Picture…” And then he looked at the envelope, paused and looked at Faye Dunaway. Dunaway laughed, called him impossible and announced La La Land as the winner. The stage immediately filled with the cast and crew – but also with Oscar producers.
When La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz was advised of the mistake, he explained, “I’m sorry, there’s a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won best picture.” Amid the confusion, producer Marc Platt reiterated, “This is not a joke. They read the wrong thing.”
Horowitz flashed the card showing the winning movie to the audience. And with that, the Moonlight cast crew made their way to the stage.
Later, host Jimmy Kimmel joked, “Personally, I blame Steve Harvey for this.” Harvey made history at the 2015 Miss Universe pageant when he misread the winner as Miss Colombia when it was actually Miss Philippines.
(Steve Harvey’s epic Twitter response to the gaffe can be found here.)
The confusion stemmed from the fact that Beatty had the wrong envelope: Cullinan had given the wrong envelope to Warren Beatty. The card inside the envelope said, “Emma Stone, La La Land” (since Beatty had the Best Actress envelope). That’s why he paused. He wasn’t, he said later, “trying to be funny.”
Stone, who had won Best Actress earlier in the evening, later said that she was confused because she had the card with her name on it. There are, however, two sets of winning envelopes at the Oscar show by design. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the accounting firm responsible for counting the ballots and verifying the results, stuffs two sets of winner envelopes and puts them in two separate briefcases – just in case.
And those producers and other folks running up on stage? Also by design. That’s the backup procedure if something goes wrong – as it did last night. Martha Ruiz and Brian Cullinan, the PwC partners who count and verify the results (and are the only two people in the world who know the winners beforehand) could both be seen onstage immediately after the snafu. After the pair’s arrival, there were three red envelopes instead of one: Warren was given the (now) correct envelope and PwC’s Cullinan was left holding what is presumed to be the second correct one as well as the wrong envelope (that second Best Actress envelope).
(For more on the ballot-counting process, including how the ballots get to the stage, check out this prior post.)
Immediately after the mix-up, PwC issued 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.
Later in the day, Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman and senior partner of PwC, admitted, “At the end of the day we made a human error. We made a mistake. What happened was, our partner on the left side of the stage, Brian Cullinan, he handed the wrong envelope to Warren Beatty. And then the second we realized that we notified the appropriate parties and corrected the mistake.”
As for the cast and crew of Moonlight? Director Barry Jenkins looked dazed, saying, “Very clearly, even in my dreams this could not be true.” “But to hell with dreams,” he continued. “I’m done with it because this is true. Oh my goodness.”
(Author’s note: The story has been updated to reflect a new statement and details from PwC related to the mix-up and a link to Steve Harvey’s response.)