Explaining The Oscar Best Picture Gaffe

The only headlines in the wake of tonight’s Oscars ceremony have been regarding the unprecedented Best Picture gaffe in which “La La Land” was wrongly named the film of the year before, several minutes into the acceptance speech, “Moonlight” was revealed to be the true winner.

So what happened? Some of the blame has been put on presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, but screen captures from the telecast confirm that Beatty was handed the Best Actress winner envelope by mistake. Certainly it was clear that Beatty had noticed something amiss after opening the envelope and showed the card which read ‘Emma Stone – La La Land’ to Dunaway who saw the “La La Land” title and announced it.

That means that the stuff up happened off camera, namely Beatty was handed the wrong envelope. PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is the accounting firm who handles the ballots for the Oscars and has been doing so for many years with a strict protocol as to how they’re handled to avoid gaffes like this.

Only two partners in the firm know the winners beforehand and each carries a briefcase with a duplicate set of the 24 winners – the pair then stands on either side of the stage throughout the ceremony. Best Actress winner Emma Stone has confirmed she still has her winning slip, meaning the other one was handed out to Beatty.

Shortly after “La La Land” was announced, someone backstage had realised the stuff up. “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz, who ended up announcing that Moonlight was the winner, revealed to Deadline he was given the Best Picture envelope by a stagehand while his fellow producer Marc Platt was giving his acceptance speech.

Horowitz then realised Beatty had the actress slip and that’s when things started really happening. Rewatching the telecast you can see several stagehands moving amongst the “La La Land” team on stage advising them of the mistake which is why, before Horowitz announced the true winner, his fellow producer made the remark about them having lost.

That puts the screw up entirely at the doorstep of PwC, which has already announced an investigation into what happened and has issued a formal apology about the situation:

“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.”

Indiewire adds that Academy CEO Dawn Hudson was fuming at the Governors’ Ball over the mistake, while director Barry Jenkins and his two producers from “Moonlight were seen at the post-show event hugging and talking with Horowitz over what happened.

In a press conference after, Jenkins confirmed he had seen two cards and that Beatty refused to show the Best Picture card to anybody before he showed it to Jenkins with Beatty apparently saying: “Barry Jenkins has to see the card, I need him to know.” Jenkins also himself said: “The folks from La La Land were so gracious, I can’t imagine being in their position and having to do that.”

So were both ‘Best Actress’ slips put in the one briefcase by mistake? We won’t know until after the investigation but one thing is pretty certain – the atmosphere at PwC on Monday morning is going to be tense.