An early morning apology by accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers for the best picture mix-up at the end of Sunday’s Oscars ceremony may have only added to the questions surrounding what many observers are now calling the biggest snafu in Academy Awards history.
The statement said in part that “The presenters (Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway) had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, [that] was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred.”
In fact, producers and stars from “La La Land” had assembled on the stage at the Dolby Theatre and already delivered a handful of speeches over a period of minutes, when “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz suddenly snatched another envelope from Beatty’s hands with the correct results — that “Moonlight” had won best picture.
Why it had taken so long to correct the mistake and why Beatty had not been flagged by two PWC accountants who were presumably just offstage — one to the left, and one to the right — had not been addressed by the accounting giant by late Monday.
The drama unfolded before millions of viewers about 10 minutes after midnight, when Beatty appeared to hesitate before announcing the winner. “And the Academy Award for best picture,” he said, pausing. Dunaway laughed — “you’re impossible” — and then he handed the envelope to her. She glanced at it, then quickly said “La La Land.” In the ensuing chaos, Beatty told the audience he was confused by the envelope handed him, which bore the name Emma Stone. She had won a few minutes earlier as best actress for “La La Land.”
“That’s why I took such a long look at Faye,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to be funny.”
Oscar envelope protocol is a well-established, rigorous procedure, filled with checks and balances to prevent such mistakes.
According to The Associated Press, during the telecast, the two briefcase-toting accountants are stationed in the Dolby Theatre wings, one stage left and one stage right. Most presenters enter stage right. They come backstage a few minutes ahead of time, and the accountant hands them their category’s envelope just before they walk onstage. The category is indicated both on the envelope and on the card with the winner’s name. The sealed envelope with the winner’s name inside is opened live onstage.
On Sunday, Beatty and Dunaway entered stage right, where PWC representative Brian Cullinan handed them the errant envelope. The previous award, best actress, was presented by Leonardo DiCaprio, who entered stage left.
PWC representative Martha Ruiz handed him the envelope for the correct category. A duplicate, unopened envelope for best actress remained stage right, and apparently ended up in the hands of Beatty and Dunaway.
Reaction came from all corners of the entertainment industry but surely the most amusing — and relevant — came from Steve Harvey who had suffered a similar gaffe during the “Miss Universe” telecast in 2015. Harvey had mistakenly announced Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutiérrez as the winner, then four minutes later corrected the mistake, saying Miss Philippines Pia Wurtzbach was the actual winner.
“I know more than anyone else in the world about this,” he said on his radio show Monday. “I am the creator of these moments, the epicurean of this.”
The general public reaction to the Oscars gaffe, he said was “ ‘OMG! How could this happen’ . . . because Warren Beatty made this mistake does he have to die? ...Y’all want to kill him? Will he need security because of this?”
Harvey added, “Warren, I know your pain. I can help Warren Beatty get through this with dignity and grace.”
Meanwhile, Harvey did see a bright side: “In closing, in the words of Martin Luther King, free at last, thank God almighty, I’m free at last. It ain’t just me.”
Even the biggest snafu in Academy Awards history could not snap the ABC telecast out if its recent ratings slump, The Los Angeles Times reports. Nielsen showed that the 89th Academy Awards was watched by an average of 32.9 million viewers Sunday. The figure is down 4.5 percent from last year, when the telecast averaged 34.47 million viewers. It’s the third consecutive year that ratings for Hollywood’s biggest night declined and failed to hit the 40 million-viewer mark. The Academy Awards’ runtime was the latest since 2002, when it ended at 12:34 a.m.