Oscars Fiasco Explained

By Victoria Robertson on February 28, 2017

If you watched the Oscars Sunday night, or really, even if you didn’t, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the absolutely cringe-worthy moment in which “La La Land” was mistakenly announced Best Picture.

There are of course promises of “a full investigation” into the incident, but that doesn’t change the fact that it happened.

A night that most non-celebrities quickly forget, the 89th Academy Awards certainly was anything but.


Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway took to the stage to announce Best Picture, in what was easily the most awkward experience of the night.

There was an exchange of very awkward glances followed by a very hesitant announcement that felt like it took forever.

The audience laughed uncomfortably at the amount of time it took the presenters to name the winner, assuming it was an attempt to add to the suspense felt by those in the category for the most anticipated award of the night.

However, the presenters, supposedly with a card for Best Actress rather than Best Picture, read the film title that was on the card that had been given to them, and the rest is already history.

The PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) that were in charge of tallying votes and distributing envelopes, claimed Beatty and Dunaway “had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope.”

Beatty confirmed this theory in claiming while on stage, “I want to tell you what happened. I opened the envelope and it said, ‘Emma Stone, La La Land.’ That’s why I took such a long look at Faye and [the audience]. I wasn’t trying to be funny.”

Meanwhile, backstage was its own nightmare.

There was reportedly a stagehand in back pacing and claiming, “Oh … Oh my god, he got the wrong envelope.”

And really, it only got more awkward.

For one thing, it got to the point in which the entire cast and crew of “La La Land” had made their way to the stage and gotten through a majority of their acceptance speeches.

It wasn’t until they were practically finished that producer Jordan Horowitz claimed, “There’s been a mistake. ‘Moonlight,’ you guys won Best Picture.” The phrase “this is not a joke” was repeated several times, just to add to the craziness of the situation.

Of course, the audience audibly gasped and the following moments were hectic, to say the least.

Backstage, Emma Stone asked, “Is that the craziest Oscar moment of all time?”

It definitely was, and very quickly #envelopegate was trending.

This was by far the biggest goof of the night, though it wasn’t the only one.

According to Jan Chapman, an Australian producer, her picture was used during the In Memoriam segment rather than her friend and colleague’s photo (Janet Patterson) who had actually passed.

According to Chapman, “Janet was a great beauty and four-time Oscar nominee and it is very disappointing that the error was not picked up.”

And to explain the process for tallying and envelopes, PwC partners Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz are the only two individuals that know the results of the Oscars beforehand. It’s the two of them, and that’s it.

These two are solely responsible for counting the votes of the 7,000 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members.

According to Ruiz, “It’s up to Brian and I to fully count everything together once, twice, and sometimes multiple times to make sure it’s correct.”

In other words, the entire process is manual. No technology is involved. It’s just these two, counting the ballots and tallying the results.

According to the company, there are “no scanning machines. No computers … [and] no security breaches.”

Of course, that doesn’t matter when the presenter is handed the wrong envelope.

They both memorize every winner, just in case something goes wrong with the envelopes, and they reportedly quiz one another so they know the names of every actor, actress, actor, film, director, song and technical crew. They literally know it all.

They both carry a briefcase that has a complete set of ballots, and each of them take different routes to Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre just in case.

And, more dramatically, they each have their own team of security from the LAPD and stand on opposite sides of the stage handing the ballots to the presenters before they go on stage.

And for the past 83 years, this system has worked really without error. These 83 years were those in which the PwC has been responsible for counting Oscar votes.

Emma Stone reportedly claimed she’d been holding her Best Actress card since she’d won prior to the announcement of Best Picture, and was correct in saying so — it just so happens (which is a fact many weren’t familiar with prior to tonight) that there are in fact two copies of this card, and the copy is the one that ended up on stage at the wrong time.

Before the ceremony on Sunday, Cullinan said, “It’s such a long-term relationship that we know intricately how everything works, the timing of it, the process that we use, and they have absolute trust in us and what we do.”

The statement ended up feeling a little ironic given the events that transpired Sunday night.

Victoria is a dedicated writer who graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She currently writes freelance pieces for various sites and works in Marketing for Myndbee Inc., promoting their current mobile app, Picpal.

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