Talk about a surprise ending. Viewers at home and inside the Dolby Theatre were gobsmacked when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly announced La La Land as the Best Picture winner over the true victor, Moonlight. So what happened, exactly? (Relive the mix-up in the video above, and get a moment-by-moment recap of the night in our live blog!)
Beatty tried to explain the flub while the cast and crew of Moonlight made their way to the stage. “I opened the envelope, and it said ‘Emma Stone, La La Land.’ That’s why I took such a long look at Faye and at you — I wasn’t trying to be funny,” he told the crowd.
Beatty did indeed seem flummoxed when he pulled the card out of the envelope to announce the winner. He even checked for another card before glancing at his former Bonnie and Clyde costar Dunaway, who playfully teased, “You’re awful,” before taking the card and announcing the winner herself.
Close-up photos of the envelope appear to show he had reason to be confused. As seen in zoomed-in screen captures, the text on the outside of the envelope does not say “Best Picture.” It appears to read “Actress in a Leading Role” — an award that went to La La Land‘s leading lady, Emma Stone, just minutes before.
Zoomed-in photo of the envelope Warren Beatty was carrying onstage — it was NOT the envelope for best picture. pic.twitter.com/VThHQ8JnT8
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) February 27, 2017
— ABC News (@ABC) February 27, 2017
Stone said backstage after the mix-up that she had her envelope in hand the whole time, but as the Los Angeles Times reported on February 19, PricewaterhouseCoopers — the firm that handles Oscar balloting — stuffs two sets of envelopes for the show. One of each is given to the partners on either side of the stage to hand to presenters.
A dispatch from an L.A. Times reporter backstage on Sunday night further backs up the “wrong envelope” theory. According to a tweet from the Times‘ Amy Kaufman, her colleague Jeffrey Fleishman witnessed the moment the crew realized the mistake. “Report from @JeffreyLAT backstage: Mid @LaLaLand acceptance, stage hand in wings said, ‘Oh, f–k. Oh, my God. He got the wrong envelope.'”
Jordan Horowitz — the La La Land producer who announced the error to the crowd and graciously handed over the Oscar to his “friends from Moonlight” — also told E! News after the ceremony that the envelope was a duplicate of the best actress card.
Incidentally, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz spoke with the Huffington Post about this exact (then-hypothetical) situation a few days before the Oscars. They said there was no exact procedure because such a mistake had never occurred in the Academy Awards’ 89-year history.
“We would make sure that the correct person was known very quickly,” Cullinan told HuffPost. “Whether that entails stopping the show, us walking on stage, us signaling to the stage manager — that’s really a game-time decision, if something like that were to happen. Again, it’s so unlikely.”