The world is still reeling after learning that Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced the wrong best picture winner at the 89th Academy Awards. In the aftermath we’re starting to learn what may have led to one of the Oscars’ biggest gaffes ever.
For those watching at home and in the audience at the Dolby Theatre, it occurred so quickly that it was initially unclear what happened. Essentially, in the moments after La La Land was announced as best picture winner, producers went onstage to try and correct the error. Producer Jordan Horowitz was able to thank his friends and family, but it’s not until the second producer, Marc Platt, started speaking that someone with a headset comes to the stage. He’s joined by Martha Ruiz, an accountant who knows who won every category prior to the Oscars, about two minutes into what we thought was La La Land’s best picture acceptance speech.
No one watching knew what happened until producer Fred Berger announced—after thanking his family—that, “We lost, by the way, but you know.” If you pay attention to the background, you can see Emma Stone, who just won best actress minutes before, mouth, “Oh my god.” Horowitz returned to the microphone to correct the mistake: Moonlight had actually won best picture.
“Guys, guys, I’m sorry. No. There’s a mistake,” Horowitz said. “Moonlight you guys won best picture. This is not a joke.”
The card stating that Moonlight won best picture was shown on TV, which director Barry Jenkins posted online shortly after the ceremony ended.
STILL SPEECHLESS pic.twitter.com/qe3NUDWAHM— Barry Jenkins (@BarryJenkins) February 27, 2017
Beatty explained that he was given the envelope for best actress in a Leading Role instead and that he was stalling because of that.
“I want to tell you what happened,” Beatty said. “I opened the envelope and it said, Emma Stone, La La Land. That’s why I took such a long look at Faye, and at you. I wasn’t trying to be funny.”
The producers and cast of Moonlight stepped onto the stage to accept the award as many of them stood in awe and confusion. They still weren’t quite sure what happened, but the envelope didn’t lie: Moonlight won best picture.
Beatty’s comments about the envelope made some wonder if Leonardo DiCaprio (who just announced Stone’s Oscar win) had given him the envelope by mistake, but Stone later dispelled that notion. As she later explained to the press, she had the envelope the entire time. (She was also photographed with DiCaprio and her winning envelope moments after stepping off the stage.)
“I fucking loved Moonlight,” Stone said. “God, I love Moonlight so much! I’m so excited for Moonlight! And of course it was an amazing thing to hear La La Land. We would have loved to have won best picture. But we are so excited for Moonlight. I think it’s one of the best films of all time. I was also holding my best actress in a Leading Role card that entire time. So whatever story, I don’t mean to start stuff, but whatever story that was, I had that card.”
As the Huffington Post explained prior to the Oscars ceremony, there are two briefcases holding two copies of the envelopes with the Oscar winners. Ruiz and Brian Cullinan—the PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants who know the winners ahead of time—are on hand to address the situation if the wrong winner is ever announced; previously Sammy Davis Jr. was given the wrong category envelope at the 1964 Oscars, but it was for a category that hadn’t been announced.
“We would make sure that the correct person was known very quickly,” Cullinan said at the time. “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.”
After apologizing for the mishap, PricewaterhouseCoopers explained in a statement in part what happened: Beatty was given the wrong envelope, an identical one to what Stone had just received. It announced it would be launching an investigation. (Of course, it hasn’t been met without jokes of a prank or conspiracy.)
“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.”