Moments, before he handed out the wrong envelope in Best Film category in one of the worst gaffes in Oscar history, PwC accountant Brian Cullinan, tweeted a behind-the-scenes photo of winner Emma Stone holding her statuette. “Best Actress Emma Stone backstage!” the tweet read. It’s one potential clue in the whodunit that Sunday’s ceremony became after presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty mistakenly proclaimed La La Land as the best-picture winner instead of Moonlight at the 89th Academy Awards.
Cullinan was one of two accountants for PwC, formerly Price Waterhouse Coopers, tasked with doling out the envelopes containing winners’ names to the presenters. His twitter bio describes him as, “Managing Partner (Southwest), Counting Oscar ballots & keeping secrets, @Cornell Alum, Skier, Harley rider, Board Member, @Patriots Fan.” While Stone’s image was no longer there on his account, it had a lot of mentions of Oscars prep and one image with Chrissy Teigen and John Legend.
But the envelope that Cullinan gave to Dunaway and Beatty was a duplicate of the previously announced win for Stone, not for best picture. Stone who later spoke about the gaffe was heard wondering how can the mistake be made when she had the envelope for best actress all the time. It seems PwC had two envelopes made for the category.
PwC, formerly Price Waterhouse Coopers, wrote in a statement that several mistakes were made and two of its partners assigned to the prestigious awards show did not act quickly enough when La La Land was mistakenly announced as the best picture winner. Three of the film’s producers spoke before the actual winner, the coming-of-age drama Moonlight, was announced.
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“PwC takes full responsibility for the series of mistakes and breaches of established protocols during last night’s Oscars,” PwC wrote. It said its partner, Brian Cullinan, mistakenly handed presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway an envelope containing the winner of the best actress award. “Once the error occurred, protocols for correcting it were not followed through quickly enough by Mr. Cullinan or his partner,” the statement read.
It did not address in detail which protocols were violated or say whether a tweet Cullinan sent about best actress winner Emma Stone before the best picture announcement contributed to the mistake. The firm, which has handled Oscar winner announcements for eight decades, apologised to Beatty, Dunaway, the cast and crew of La La Land and Moonlight, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and host Jimmy Kimmel.
“We wish to extend our deepest gratitude to each of them for the graciousness they displayed during such a difficult moment,” the statement said. “For the past 83 years, the academy has entrusted PwC with the integrity of the awards process during the ceremony, and last night we failed the academy.”
See Ryan Gosling’s reaction on the goof-up
The statement came after nearly a day of speculation about how the worst gaffe in Oscars history unfolded. The fiasco launched countless punchlines, memes and a probe of what went wrong.
Meanwhile, the Academy said in a statement on Monday, “We deeply regret the mistakes that were made during the presentation of the Best Picture category during last night’s Oscar ceremony. We apologise to the entire cast and crew of ‘La La Land’ and ‘Moonlight’ whose experience was profoundly altered by this error.”
“We salute the tremendous grace they displayed under the circumstances. To all involved – including our presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, the filmmakers, and our fans watching worldwide – we apologise.”
The statement also mentioned that for the last 83 years, the Academy has entrusted auditor firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to handle the critical tabulation process, including the accurate delivery of results. “The PwC has taken full responsibility for the breaches of established protocols that took place during the ceremony. We have spent last night (Sunday) and today (Monday) investigating the circumstances, and will determine what actions are appropriate going forward,” the statement added.
The mistaken announcement altered the usual celebration that follows the coronation of a best picture winner. The only Oscars mistake that came close occurred in 1964, when Sammy Davis was given the wrong envelope for best music score winner but made a quick correction.
Check out Barry Jenkins’ video:
— Variety (@Variety) February 27, 2017
The La La Land-Moonlight mix-up, in contrast, took a painfully long time to be announced, with two-plus minutes elapsing before it was announced to the moviemakers and the world at large.
The embarrassing episode stepped squarely on what should have been a night of high-fiving for the academy. After last year’s awards were clouded by the #OscarsSoWhite protests, diversity ruled Sunday as actors Viola Davis (“Fences”) and Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”) were among the people of color claiming trophies, while “Moonlight” focused on African-American characters.
On paper, the process for announcing Oscars winners seems straight-forward. As per protocol, Cullinan and PwC colleague Martha Ruiz toted briefcases to the awards via the red carpet, each holding an identical set of envelopes for the show’s 24 categories. The accountants also memorize the winners.
During the telecast, the accountants were stationed in the Dolby Theatre wings, one stage left and one stage right, to give presenters their category’s envelope before they went on stage. Most presenters entered stage right, where Cullinan was posted and where he handed Beatty and Dunaway the errant envelope. Yet the previous award, best actress, had been presented by Leonardo DiCaprio, who entered stage left and received the envelope from Ruiz. That left a duplicate, unopened envelope for best actress at stage right.