Last night, the worst kind of historywas made.
For the first time ever, the wrong winner was read out at the Academy Awards for Best Picture when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway presented the Oscar to the musical “La La Land.” A couple minutes later, it was the movie's creative team who had to announce the mistake, and that the winner was in fact the gay coming-of-age drama “Moonlight.”
So what exactly happened?
The story unfolded like a real-time Hollywood drama — and there were definitely winners and losers here, too.
The problem, as Beatty explained, was that he'd been handed the wrong evelope. Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the accounting firm that handles the Academy’s votes and whose executives hand the envelopes to presenters on their way to the stage, issued astatementearly Monday morning:
“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.”
You can see here that Beatty was indeed holding the envelope for Best Actress in a Leading Role, which Emma Stone had just won for “La La Land.”
Understandably, he was confused about what was on the card — he even peeked inside the envelope to check if there was another one in there, stretching out the moment hoping someone would realize there's been a mistake.
Ultimately though, he’s going to be remembered as the guy who passed the buck to Dunaway, who did what any of us would’ve done: read what’s on the card just to break the horrible tension of the moment.
Incidentally, the Huffington Post had asked Pricewaterhouse about exactly this problem in a Feb. 24 story. The firm has two executives, Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz, who walk the red carpet with the envelopes in briefcases, among other spy drama-worthy details.
"Throughout the telecast, Cullinan and Ruiz are stationed on opposite sides backstage. The duo will have memorized the winners, thereby preventing the need to list them on any documentation that could land in the wrong hands," HuffPo wrote.
Here they are during happier times, on the red carpet with the envelopes:
In the same story, Ruiz implied but didn't explicitly say that she and Cullinan are the ones handing the envelopes to presenters. So what if the hands were right, but the envelope was wrong?
“We would make sure that the correct person was known very quickly,” Cullinan told HuffPo. "Whether that entails stopping the show, us walking onstage, us signaling to the stage manager — that’s really a game-time decision, if something like that were to happen. Again, it’s so unlikely.”
Not unlikely enough.
Once the Oscar fuzz came onstage, it was bizarrely left to the “La La Land” team to fix this mess. Producer Jordan Horowitz wasn’t first to the microphone, but he’s the one who will be remembered.
He had already given his acceptance speech, which included this line that seems to be hailing not his own movie but “Moonlight” as embodying the values that entertainment should aspire to: “There’s a lot of love in this room, and let’s use it to create and champion bold and diverse work, work that inspires us towards joy, towards hope and towards empathy,” he said.
During the confusion as the "Moonlight" team was making their way to the stage, host Jimmy Kimmel tried to diffuse the awkwardness. “I would like to see you get an Oscar anyway," Kimmel says to Horowitz and the departing "La La Land" cast. "Why can’t we just give out a whole bunch of them?”
Horowitz wasn’t having it: “I’m going to be really proud to hand this award to my friends from ‘Moonlight,’” he replied.
(While closing the evening, Kimmel would go on to further disgrace himself by calling the biggest night in Hollywood "just an awards show" — the "Moonlight" cast was still onstage. Finally realizing he wasn't up to the task of salvaging things, he ended with, "I knew I would screw this show up, I really did. ... I promise I'll never come back.")
After it became clear the “La La Land” team wasn’t just pulling anAdele at the Grammys, it was the “Moonlight” team’s turn in the spotlight.
This off-camera shot of the cast/crew of Moonlight winning Best Picture pic.twitter.com/uWfxehXRsJ— Spencer Althouse (@SpencerAlthouse) February 27, 2017
It's a rotten thing to have your big moment spoiled like this. The winners shouldn't be left with mixed feelings, but that's what happened to Mahershala Ali, who won Best Supporting Actor for "Moonlight" earlier in the night — the first Muslim winner in Oscars history.
Last thing—Mahershala Ali’s reaction to the whole mix-up. Very clear that everyone in both films has tremendous love for the other one: pic.twitter.com/1zbruog92y— Marc (@MarcSnetiker) February 27, 2017
Once backstage, "Moonlight" director Barry Jenkins had this to say: "I will say—please write this down—the folks of 'La La Land' were so gracious; I can't imagine being in their position and having to do that. We spent a lot of time together the last six months, and I can't imagine being in their position right now."
He also later tweeted to acknowledge Horowitz personally:
Jordan Horowitz. Wow. I'm slipping slowly into reflection, perspective. Much respect to that dude— Barry Jenkins (@BandryBarry) February 27, 2017
And while we know roughly what happened, several questions remain — namely, who gave Beatty the wrong envelope?It wasn’tEmma Stone:
Emma Stone backstage said SHE HAD HER CARD THE WHOLE TIME!!! pic.twitter.com/WecMyquaGp— Marc (@MarcSnetiker) February 27, 2017
If nothing else, this mess got meme-making off to a great start for the week:
I wrote the ending of the academy awards 2017. @jimmykimmel we really got them!— M. Night Shyamalan (@MNightShyamalan) February 27, 2017
we promise if we give you pancakes they are your pancakes and we will not take them away— Denny's (@DennysDiner) February 27, 2017