« Tap to Next Article »

Here's How the Oscar Mistake Happened, and Who's to Blame

Let's break this thing down.

Here's How the Oscar Mistake Happened, and Who's to Blame
Getty Images

Last night's Oscars ended with a shock that won't soon be forgotten. First, La La Land won Best Picture, then it didn't. A mistake had been made. Moonlight was the real winner, and the room watched in confused astonishment as the trophies changed hands.

In case you haven't seen it, here it is again:

So how did this happen? And who goofed it all up? Beatty seemed as confused as anyone.

"I read the card that was in the envelope," he told reporters while heading to the Governors Ball. "I thought, 'This is very strange because it says "best actress" on the card.' And I felt that maybe there was some sort of misprint."

At about that time, Faye Dunaway, apparently thinking Beatty was milking the moment for laughs, grabbed the envelope, saw "La La Land" and named them the winner. Whoops!

Warren & Faye Had the Wrong Envelope

The morning after the incident, Beatty's story checks out. The envelope he was given really did have the Best Actress winner printed on it. Because there were two identical envelopes.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, the firm that handles ALL the Oscar voting, makes two sets of winning envelopes and sends two representatives to the Oscars — in this case Martha L. Ruiz and Brian Cullinan. They stand on either side of the stage and coordinate the envelope hand-offs so everything runs smoothly. These are the only two people in the world, by the way, who know the actual winners up until they're read aloud.

Last night, as the New York Times explains, Emma Stone's winning envelope came from the Ruiz side of the stage. Beatty and Dunaway entered from the Cullinan side of the stage where Cullinan handed them the other Emma Stone envelope.

Stone herself was confused by the incident, telling reporters afterward she was "holding my Best Actress in a Leading Role card the whole time. I’m not sure what happened."

The Apology

Sometime after midnight, PricewaterhouseCoopers, recognizing the disappointing chain of events, issued an apology for the mix-up.

It reads: "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."

While PricewaterhouseCoopers' apology seems to put the matter to rest, there's another question here.

How Did Faye Dunaway Not Notice That It Was the Wrong Card?

Let's chalk this up to nerves. It doesn't make much sense to go hard for Faye Dunaway here. Warren Beatty clearly understood something was wrong and if he'd been quicker he might have addressed the mistake immediately. Unfortunately, Faye misread the situation, grabbed the card and read (what she thought was) the winner. And not to give Faye a free pass here, but there were some mitigating circumstances — for instance the color of the envelope.

While last year the Oscar envelope was gold with red lettering. And this year it was switched in a design choice, according to the New York Times, made by the Academy itself. Apparently it was much easier to read the red lettering on gold than it was to read gold lettering on red. So there's that.

On the left: The envelope for this year's Best Picture winner. On the right: The envelope for last year's Best Picture winner.
On the left: The envelope for this year's Best Picture winner. On the right: The envelope for last year's Best Picture winner.
Getty Images

Working It Out

So there are the facts. Assign blame as you will. A lot of things had to go wrong for this all to happen, and it's a shame that the team behind Moonlight didn't get the uncomplicated, no asterisks spotlight it deserved for its big win. La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz has been, deservedly, commended for quickly working to fix the situation and give credit where it was due, but that doesn't change the fact that Moonlight's big win was unfairly muddled up with some administrative nonsense in the process. After the show, Moonlight director Barry Jenkins was still trying to process what happened.

"The last 20 minutes of my life have been insane," he said. "I don’t think my life could be changed any more dramatically than the last 20 or 30 minutes."

View Faye Dunaway Pictures »