What Happened during the Oscars Gaffe?

Kevin Valdez

Movie stars Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway appeared at the Oscars ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of their iconic film Bonnie and Clyde, but more importantly, to announce the winner for Best Picture.


As Beatty opened the envelope, he seemed to be building up suspense, but his uncomfortable face would later say otherwise.


“You’re impossible,” Dunaway playfully told him, thinking he was joking around.


After he hesitantly gave her the card, she announced that La La Land won the Oscar. Ecstatic cheering and applause came from the crowd.


The musical film starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone had already been nominated for a record-tying 14 Oscars and won six of them including Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Original Score.


As the cast and crew went up on stage to receive their award, producers Jordan Horowitz and Marc Platt gave their acceptance speeches. Suddenly, there was a flourish of activity spreading on and backstage.


One stagehand backstage muttered, “Oh, my God, he got the wrong envelope.” Everyone else walked back and forth repeating it.


Producer Fred Berger was already thanking his family when he turned around and surprisingly remarked, “We lost, by the way.”


A man with a headset and an accountant in charge of handing out the Oscar ballots came across on stage; the latter was one of only two people who knew what the winners were before the show.


“There’s been a mistake. ‘Moonlight,’ you guys won Best Picture,” Jordan Horowitz announced as gasps came from the audience and backstage. “This is not a joke.”


Horowitz raised the correct card up high to reveal that Moonlight had indeed won for Best Picture.


“‘Moonlight.’ Best Picture,” he repeated. Everyone couldn’t believe what they had just witnessed.


“Personally, I blame Steve Harvey for this,” host Jimmy Kimmel joked, calling out the moment when Harvey announced the wrong Miss Universe winner two years ago. “I would like to see you get an Oscar anyway; why can’t we just give out a whole bunch of them?”


As the producers of La La Land went to give their Oscars to the producers of Moonlight, Warren Beatty stepped up to the microphone and addressed his mistake.


“I opened the envelope, and it said, ‘Emma Stone, La La Land,’” he said, talking about the winner for Best Actress. “That’s why I took such a long look at Faye [Dunaway], and at you [the audience]. I wasn’t trying to be funny.”


The person responsible for the blunder was a 57-year-old man named Brian Cullinan, who worked as an accountant for PricewaterhouseCoopers for 30 years. The company has overseen the ballot-counting for the Academy since 1934.


Cullinan was supposed to discard the Best Actress envelope and give Warren Beatty the envelope for Best Picture, but he was a bit distracted in the process. During the ceremony, he tweeted a photo of actress Emma Stone holding her Oscar statuette backstage, which has since been deleted. He later handed Warren Beatty a duplicate envelope for Best Actress and failed to realize his gaffe quickly enough.


“Brian was asked not to tweet or use social media during the show,” a source told People. “He was fine to tweet before he arrived on the red carpet but once he was under the auspices of the Oscar night job, that was to be his only focus.”


Cullinan still has his job at PricewaterhouseCoopers, but he has been banned from working at future Oscar award ceremonies.


A New York Times article written by David Gelles and Sapna Maheshwari said that the design of the envelopes could have also been a factor.


“The envelopes were redesigned this year to feature red paper with gold lettering that specified the award enclosed, rather than gold paper with dark lettering,” they wrote. “That could have made the lettering harder to read. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, not PwC, is responsible for the design and procurement of the envelopes.”

This blunder happened once before in the 89-year history of the Oscars, but it wasn’t for Best Picture. In 1964, singer Sammy Davis, Jr. was given the wrong envelope which was labeled as Best Original Score while announcing the winner for Best Adaptation or Treatment Score.