Oscars mixup blamed on accountant eclipses 'Moonlight' win
HOLLYWOOD, USA – An Oscars howler that saw best picture go to the wrong movie was blamed Monday, February 27 on an accountant losing track of his envelopes – and undermining a historic triumph for black cinema.
More than 30 million viewers witnessed presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announcing musical La La Land as the victor when coming-of-age tale Moonlight had actually won top prize at Sunday's 89th Academy Awards. (FULL LIST: Winners, Oscars 2017)
Accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is responsible for counting and safeguarding Oscar votes and results, took the blame after the evening ended in chaos, vowing to investigate what had gone wrong. (READ: Oscars auditors PwC apologize for best picture mix-up)
The company said on Monday that Brian Cullinan, a partner with years of experience at the Oscars, had mistakenly handed Beatty a duplicate of the envelope announcing Emma Stone's best actress win for La La Land.
Tim Ryan, PwC's US chairman, told trade magazine Variety he had spoken at length with Cullinan.
"He is very upset about this mistake. And it is also my mistake, our mistake and we all feel very bad," Ryan was quoted as saying.
The most shocking error in the Oscars' 88-year history largely overshadowed the significance of the achievement of Moonlight on a night of a record number of wins by black stars.
Not only did the underdog pull off a stunning upset against awards juggernaut La La Land, it was also the first winner in history made by an African-American directing an entirely black cast.
"It was a heartbreaking fiasco. You felt embarrassed for Dunaway and Beatty, who clearly knew something was amiss when he opened the envelope but didn't know how to proceed," wrote Entertainment Weekly critic Jeff Jenson.
Moonlight, the story of a young African-American struggling to find his place as he grows up poor in Miami, was seen as the ultimate antidote to the #OscarsSoWhite diversity controversy that engulfed the last two ceremonies.
One of its stars, African-American Mahershala Ali, became the first Muslim acting winner in history while director Barry Jenkins and writer Tarell McCraney took their place among just four black recipients of a best screenplay Oscar.
The film ended up with three prizes on the night – best picture, best supporting actor for Ali and best adapted screenplay.
Until the final minute of the film industry's biggest night, it had been business as usual, with plenty of political statements – mainly jabs at President Donald Trump – and light-hearted jokes from host Jimmy Kimmel.
Trump blamed the catastrophic finale on what he said was Hollywood obsessing about him rather than concentrating on running a smooth show, according to conservative website Breitbart News.
"It was a little sad. It took away from the glamor of the Oscars," he told the site, which was previously managed by Steve Bannon, who now serves as Trump's chief strategist.
"It didn't feel like a very glamorous evening. I've been to the Oscars. There was something very special missing, and then to end that way was sad."
It fell to La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz – already onstage and delivering a speech after receiving his best picture statuette – to announce the error to a sea of confused faces amid scenes of chaos onstage at Hollywood's Dolby Theatre.
"I noticed the commotion and thought something was strange. And then I was speechless," the director of Moonlight said backstage.
"I've watched the Academy Awards before and have never seen that happen," Jenkins said.
Cullinan hasn't spoken openly about the error but PwC was quick to circulate an apology and vow to investigate what had gone wrong.
The managing partner and his colleague Martha Ruiz, who have personally handled the Oscars in recent years, recently explained in an interview that two sets of envelopes are on site during the event.
"We stand on opposite sides of the stage, right off-screen, for the entire evening, and we each hand the respective envelope to the presenter," Cullinan said in the interview published on medium.com.
"It doesn't sound very complicated, but you have to make sure you're giving the presenter the right envelope."
After Ruiz furnished presenter Leonardo DiCaprio with Stone's best actress envelope, Cullinan was supposed to ditch his duplicate but mistakenly gave it to Beatty in the place of the best picture envelope.
"The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and, when discovered, was immediately corrected," PwC said.
Damien Chazelle's runaway favorite La La Land – a modern take on the all-singing, all-dancing Golden Age of Tinseltown's studio system – took 6 prizes for best director, actress, score, song, production design and cinematography.
Starring Stone and Ryan Gosling as an aspiring actress and a struggling jazz musician who fall in love in Los Angeles, the musical charmed critics and soared at the box office.
"This was a movie about love and I was lucky enough to fall in love while making it," said Chazelle, 32, the youngest filmmaker by several months ever to win a best directing Oscar.
Manchester by the Sea star Casey Affleck fended off competition from Fences lead Denzel Washington to take best actor while Stone beat Isabelle Huppert, star of edgy rape-revenge thriller Elle, for the best actress statuette.
Manchester went into the evening with six nominations but came away with only Affleck's win and a best original screenplay statuette for Kenneth Lonergan, who also directed the film. – Rappler.com
More Oscars 2017 on Rappler here:
- Oscars 2017 shows photo of wrong woman during 'In Memoriam' segment
- Sound mixer finally wins Oscar – on 21st try
- 'Moonlight' shines at Oscars with best picture win
- Stars react to Oscars Best Picture gaffe
- Chazelle makes history with best director Oscar for 'La La Land'
- WATCH: Confusion as 'Moonlight' wins Best Picture Oscar after 'La La Land' announced winner
- FULL LIST: Winners, Oscars 2017
- Oscars 2017: 'Moonlight' wins Best Picture, after 'La La Land' first announced winner
- Oscars 2017: Emma Stone wins Best Actress
- Oscars 2017: Casey Affleck wins Best Actor
- Film on Syria's White Helmets wins Oscar
- WATCH: 'Mean Tweets' at Oscars 2017
- WATCH: Timberlake opens Oscars 2017 with 'Can't Stop the Feeling'
- IN PHOTOS: 12 Best dressed at the Oscars 2017
- Oscars 2017: Viola Davis wins Best Supporting Actress
- Oscars 2017: Mahershala Ali wins Best Supporting Actor
- IN PHOTOS: Oscars 2017 red carpet