The Oscars 2017: What exactly went wrong?

How did Warren Beatty end up with the wrong envelope in his hand? And what do organisers PwC have to say about it all?


History was made at the Oscars last night…for all the wrong reasons.


An incredible and almost unbelievable gaffe happened at the 89th Academy Awards when the coveted Best Picture was announced as being awarded to La La Land, before it transpired that it had actually been won by Moonlight.

So, what exactly happened? Here’s the full awkward horror as it unfolded…

1. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway step up to announce the Best Picture winner

The Bonnie and Clyde star opened the red envelope to reveal the winner in quite a state of confusion. He read the card, read it again, checked inside the envelope to see whether there was another card in there. There wasn’t.

He went on to begin to announce it with “And the Academy Award…” before stopping himself, looking quite sheepish and re-reading the envelope yet again just to make sure.

Sounding on edge, he continued “…for Best Picture…” before trying to show the card to his co-presenter Faye Dunaway. Dunaway then read out La La Land. The audience applauded and the whole cast and crew of the movie went up to accept the prize.

2. La La Land’s speeches are cut short

In the middle of the La La Land team accepting the award, backstage staff can be seen dashing in behind the stage. Two producers had already delivered their speeches when the third, Fred Berger, was cut short.

La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz then took to the microphone to say that, actually, Moonlight had won the award. At first, the audience didn’t quite take this in, perhaps assuming this was an ‘Adele-saying-her-Grammy-was-for-Beyonce’ thing, but he insisted.

“This is not a joke,” he said. “Moonlight has won Best Picture.”


Producer Jordan Horowitz reveals that Moonlight, not La La Land, has won Best Picture at the Oscars

The correct envelope had been found, and Horowitz grabbed the card and showed it to the camera to prove that the Barry Jenkins-directed film had scooped the prize.

Emma Stone, and the entire audience, were shocked.

3. Did Warren Beatty have the wrong envelope?

Apparently so. If you zoom in on a screenshot of the actor taking to the podium, you can see that the red envelope is embossed with ‘Actress in a Leading Role’ in gold letters – as noted by Neil Patrick Harris.

Just moments before, Emma Stone had won the Oscar for La La Land, and it seems as though Beatty was hesitating so much before he read what was printed on the card because confusingly it said ‘Emma Stone – La La Land’.

After the event, Beatty said: “I looked down at the card and thought, this is very strange, because it says best actress. Maybe there was a misprint. I don’t know what happened. And that’s all I have I have to say on the subject.”

4. How did the wrong envelope end up on stage?

Conspiracy theorists went into overdrive when it was revealed that Stone had held onto her envelope when she picked up her award. “I don’t mean to start stuff – but whatever story that was, I had the card,” she said backstage after the ceremony. “So, I’m not sure what happened.”


At the Oscars, there are two copies of every envelope taken to the ceremony. Two people, Brian Cullinan and Martha L. Ruiz from accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, are escorted by the police to the Awards, each with a briefcase containing the envelopes. They then personally hand the cards to the announcers before they go out on stage.

People were left wondering what Leonardo DiCaprio had done with his envelope, as he was the one who read out Stone’s win shortly before the gaffe.

5. So just how did it come to be in Beatty’s hands moments later?

In an interview before the ceremony, Cullinan explained: “We have two briefcases, that are identical, and we have two entire sets of winning envelopes. Martha carries one of those briefcases, I carry the other. We go to the show separately with police escorts… We want to make sure that no matter what happens, one of us gets there. We’ve never really had a problem with that.”

He also added that the Academy have “absolute trust in us and what we do”. Yep.

In another interview before the furore, Cullinan said: “We stand on opposite sides of the stage, right off-screen for the entire evening, and we hand the respective envelope to the presenter. It doesn’t sound very complicated, but you have to make sure you’re giving the presenter the right envelope.”

Apparently it is quite complicated after all.

6. Who are PricewaterhouseCoopers? And what did they have to say about the controversy?

The accountancy firm is responsible for counting the Academy Awards votes and delivering the winners’ envelopes to the ceremony.

After the ceremony finished, PwC issued a statement apologising for the error.

“We sincerely apologise to Moonlight, La La Land, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture,” the statement read. “The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred.

“We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and [host] Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation.”

The company has run the balloting for the Oscars for the past 83 years. This is the first time the wrong Best Picture winner has been announced.

7. What has been the fallout?

Unsurprisingly, no-one was best pleased with the almighty mistake. Speaking to reporters backstage after winning the award, Moonlight director Barry Jenkins said: “Things just happen. I will say, I saw two cards. And so, things just happen.

“I wanted to see the card, to see the card. Warren refused to show the card to anybody before he showed it to me,” said Jenkins. “And so he did. He came upstairs and he walked over to me, and he showed the card. And everybody was asking, ‘Can I see the card’? And he’s like, ‘no, Barry Jenkins has to see the card, I need him to know.’ And he showed it to me. I felt better about what happened.”


There will be plenty more revelations to come before the day is out, we’re sure… We’ll update this story as soon as we know more.