Pop Culture

‘Moonlight’ Wins Best Picture Oscar After the Biggest Screw-Up in Academy Award History

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Last night was the Academy Awards, and this year was actually pretty exciting for a variety of reasons. For once, the fashion red carpet was actually good and not a dull parade of flesh-toned mermaid dresses and Old Hollywood hair–Janelle Monae was the queen of the night in a dazzling Elie Saab gown with a silhouette that would not have looked out of place in the court of Marie Antoinette–and the awards themselves were actually pretty interesting. Some tuned in to see if Fantastic Beasts would win Best Costumes, or La La Land would take the Best Original Song category and steal Lin-Manuel Miranda’s EGOT, or if Meryl Streep would win the Best Actress award in her historic 20th nomination. But probably the biggest suspense of the night was what would happen in the Best Picture category, and that turned out to be the biggest clusterfuck in Oscars history.

La La Land–a fun musical romance in which Ryan Gosling explains jazz to Emma Stone for two hours–was the favorite to win Best Picture, but a lot of people thought the Best Picture award rightfully belonged to Moonlight, a complicated, intense, and beautifully crafted coming-of-age story about one man’s experiences growing up poor, black, and gay in America.

Best Picture was the last award given last night, and it was presented by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. It started out normal enough, but when Warren Beatty opened the envelope to announce the Best Picture winner, he paused for a moment and looked confused. He glanced at the audience, then looked at Dunaway. Dunaway seemed to think he was joking around and dragging things out, and when Beatty showed her the card she glanced at it and announced, “La La Land!”

Then the music started playing, and the cast and crew came out and everyone was tearful, and two solid acceptance speeches were made before it was interrupted to reveal that there had been a colossal fuck-up, and Moonlight actually won the 2017 Best Picture Oscar. Beatty had been handed the wrong card.

Warren Beatty says he was actually handed the envelope for Best Actress, which went to Emma Stone in La La Land. When he opened it up and saw that it said “Emma Stone/La La Land,” he knew something was wrong, but not exactly what was wrong. Did they write the card wrong? Was he given the wrong card? Was Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel playing one of his famous pranks?

When Beatty showed the card to Dunaway, she saw “La La Land” on the card and read it out. That’s when the accountants from PricewaterhouseCoopers, who are the only people in the theater who know the actual winners, realized something had gone wrong.

The Academy Awards are meant to be a well-oiled machine. Nobody but the accountants from PriceWaterhouse Cooper actually know the winners before the envelopes are open. The accountants say they are still looking into what happened, but it seems like there are two full sets of identical envelopes, one on each side of the Oscars stage. When a presenter goes out to give an award, they are given the envelope for their category that is on the side of the stage they are on. Leonardo DiCaprio presented Emma Stone with her Best Actress award, and she took her statue and her envelope with her when she went back to her seat.

Warren Beatty entered from the opposite side of the stage than DiCaprio, so there was still a “Best Actress” envelope over there, and someone seems to have handed it to Beatty by mistake.

By the time the mistake was revealed and Kimmel and everyone rushed out to handle it, La La Land had already gone through two acceptance speeches. (The third guy thanked his wife anyway, before saying, “actually we lost.”)

This really sucked for everyone involved. Well, the audience at home got an exciting show, but it was terrible for everyone else. For a while there, people seemed to be blaming Warren Beatty, though it was obviously not his fault. The cast and crew of La La Land had to have been extremely disappointed, and it’s to La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz’s credit that he was able to quickly jump in front of the microphone and not look a bit sad or angry when he said, “Guys, I’m sorry, there’s been a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won best picture.”

Lest there be any weird conspiracy theories, Horowitz held up the right envelope to show the cameras and audience that it clearly said the Best Picture award was meant for Moonlight.

And it really, really sucked for the cast and crew of Moonlight that their big moment was overshadowed like that. They should have been able to go up there and give their speeches in triumph, without the entire world being distracted by thoughts of, “OMG, what happened?! Was it Beatty’s fault? Gosh, that La La Land guy seems nice. Someone’s getting fired over this, right!?”

Moonlight director Barry Jenkins was as astounded as the rest of us, but he took the stage to give his well-deserved speech: “Very clearly, even in my dreams, this could not be true. But to hell with dreams — I’m done with it, because this is true.”

Moonlight is a deep, amazing movie with a brilliant cast–including Mahershala Ali, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and who just became a dad on February 22–and everyone should go see it because it deserves buckets of money on top of its well-deserved Best Picture award.

PricewaterhouseCoopers has issued a formal apology to everyone involved, especially Moonlight, La La Land, and Warren Beatty, and said they would be investigating the fuck-up to see what had happened.

The whole debacle is online here: