However, this latest ceremony saw something unprecedented happen – something that, if you managed to stay up to the very end of the (as usual) interminably long ceremony, has never occurred in the nearly nine-decade history of the Oscars.
The wrong winner was announced.
You’ve undoubtedly heard all about it by now. The final award of the night was Best Picture. The presenters were Hollywood legends Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. They did their brief little scripted back-and-forth and everything was fine. Then Beatty opened the envelope to announce the winner and … paused. He looked confused and a little lost before attempting to show Dunaway the envelope. She proceeded to read “La La Land” and the music started playing.
But there was a mistake.
You could see chaos bubbling toward the back of the stage as the “La La Land” crew was giving their heartfelt acceptance speeches. Soon, it became clear. The unthinkable had happened. “La La Land” was not in fact the winner. The award was to go to “Moonlight.”
And so it did, leaving us all to wonder just how such a thing had happened.
(It should be noted that in my Oscars preview in this very publication, my Best Picture prediction basically boiled down to: “La La Land” will win, but “Moonlight” should win. Pretty sure I was as right as it was possible to be on that one. Just saying.)
There are some people who handled this whole situation with aplomb. “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz leapt into action as those around him wandered about in confusion, stepping to the microphone to make very clear who the real winners were, going so far as to get his hands on the proper envelope and hold up the winning card for the world to see. “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins was another who handled the roller coaster with remarkable grace. The onstage embrace between the two men was perhaps the most poignant and enduring image of the whole debacle.
However, while some handled things well, others … did not.
We’ll start with Pricewaterhouse Cooper, the storied accounting firm who have been in charge of securing and handling the Oscar voting for decades. They are the ones responsible for ensuring that the results stay secret until announced. They are the ones tasked with giving the proper envelopes containing the proper winners to the proper people.
And they are the ones who dropped the ball.
We’ll probably never know just how the wrong envelope – this one being the spare Best Actress envelope – got into Beatty’s hands, though PwC has apparently accepted full responsibility (one imagines that some folks are going to get super-duper fired).
That was far from the only lapse, though. Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to trot out Tinseltown’s Nana and Peepaw at an hour that was likely long past their bedtimes in order to present the most important award of the evening. In addition, rumor has it that there was some friction between Beatty and Dunaway leading up to the thing, which might explain why she didn’t necessarily react to his obvious befuddlement.
And Jimmy Kimmel – who had done a decent, albeit unspectacular job as host to that point – kind of fell apart, making a number of stupid jokes that fell flat and generally making things feel even more awkward than they already did (the Steve Harvey reference in particular hit the lame/dated/insulting trifecta). At least he didn’t blame Matt Damon.
Really, the biggest misfortune out of all of this is that the folks behind “Moonlight” didn’t get the opportunity to fully share their excitement and gratitude with the world (though it wouldn’t be a shock to discover that the combination of the win and the mess that led up to it resulted in a whole lot more people seeing what’s truly a great film).
Again, in the grand scheme of things, this doesn’t really matter. It’s just a silly, self-important awards show. But in the context of the moment, it’s a shame that so many people who supposedly know what they’re doing managed to so thoroughly screw it all up.