Oscars mixup blamed on accountant eclipses ‘Moonlight’ win

February 28, 2017 6:12 am
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US director Barry Jenkins (C) speaks after “Moonlight” won the Best Film award at the 89th Oscars on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California © AFP / Mark RALSTON

, Hollywood, United States, Feb 27 – An Oscars howler that saw best picture go to the wrong movie was blamed on an accountant losing track of his envelopes — and undermining a historic triumph for black cinema.

More than 30 million viewers witnessed presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announcing musical “La La Land” as the victor when coming-of-age tale “Moonlight” had actually won top prize at Sunday’s 89th Academy Awards.

Accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is responsible for counting and safeguarding Oscar votes and results, took the blame after the evening ended in chaos, vowing to investigate what had gone wrong.

The company said on Monday that Brian Cullinan, a partner with years of experience at the Oscars, had mistakenly handed Beatty a duplicate of the envelope announcing Emma Stone’s best actress win for “La La Land.”

Tim Ryan, PwC’s US chairman, told trade magazine Variety he had spoken at length with Cullinan.

“He is very upset about this mistake. And it is also my mistake, our mistake and we all feel very bad,” Ryan was quoted as saying.

“La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz holds up the card reading Best Film ‘Moonlight” next to US actor Warren Beatty who earlier mistakenly read out “La La Land” at the 89th Oscars in Hollywood on February 26, 2017 © AFP / Mark RALSTON

The most shocking error in the Oscars’ 88-year history largely overshadowed the significance of the achievement of “Moonlight” on a night of a record number of wins by black stars.

Not only did the underdog pull off a stunning upset against awards juggernaut “La La Land,”, it was also the first winner in history made by an African-American directing an entirely black cast.

“It was a heartbreaking fiasco. You felt embarrassed for Dunaway and Beatty, who clearly knew something was amiss when he opened the envelope but didn’t know how to proceed,” wrote Entertainment Weekly critic Jeff Jenson.

“Moonlight,” the story of a young African-American struggling to find his place as he grows up poor in Miami, was seen as the ultimate antidote to the #OscarsSoWhite diversity controversy that engulfed the last two ceremonies.

– Trump ‘obsession’ –

One of its stars, African-American Mahershala Ali, became the first Muslim acting winner in history while director Barry Jenkins and writer Tarell McCraney took their place among just four black recipients of a best screenplay Oscar.

The film ended up with three prizes on the night — best picture, best supporting actor for Ali and best adapted screenplay.

Graphic showing winners in main categories at the 89th Oscars. © AFP / Gal ROMA

Until the final minute of the film industry’s biggest night, it had been business as usual, with plenty of political statements — mainly jabs at President Donald Trump — and light-hearted jokes from host Jimmy Kimmel.

Trump blamed the catastrophic finale on what he said was Hollywood obsessing about him rather than concentrating on running a smooth show, according to conservative website Breitbart News.

“It was a little sad. It took away from the glamor of the Oscars,” he told the site, which was previously managed by Steve Bannon, who now serves as Trump’s chief strategist.

“It didn’t feel like a very glamorous evening. I’ve been to the Oscars. There was something very special missing, and then to end that way was sad.”

It fell to “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz — already onstage and delivering a speech after receiving his best picture statuette — to announce the error to a sea of confused faces amid scenes of chaos onstage at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre.

Mahershala Ali poses with the Oscar for best actor in a supporting role on February 26, 2017 © AFP / FREDERIC J. BROWN

“I noticed the commotion and thought something was strange. And then I was speechless,” the director of “Moonlight” said backstage.

“I’ve watched the Academy Awards before and have never seen that happen,” Jenkins said.

Cullinan hasn’t spoken openly about the error but PwC was quick to circulate an apology and vow to investigate what had gone wrong.

– ‘In love’ –

The managing partner and his colleague Martha Ruiz, who have personally handled the Oscars in recent years, recently explained in an interview that two sets of envelopes are on site during the event.

“We stand on opposite sides of the stage, right off-screen, for the entire evening, and we each hand the respective envelope to the presenter,” Cullinan said in the interview published on medium.com.

US actress Emma Stone speaks after she won the best actress award for “La La Land” at the 89th Oscars on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California © AFP / Mark RALSTON

“It doesn’t sound very complicated, but you have to make sure you’re giving the presenter the right envelope.”

After Ruiz furnished presenter Leonardo DiCaprio with Stone’s best actress envelope, Cullinan was supposed to ditch his duplicate but mistakenly gave it to Beatty in the place of the best picture envelope.

“The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and, when discovered, was immediately corrected,” PwC said.

Damien Chazelle’s runaway favorite “La La Land” — a modern take on the all-singing, all-dancing Golden Age of Tinseltown’s studio system — took six prizes for best director, actress, score, song, production design and cinematography.

Starring Stone and Ryan Gosling as an aspiring actress and a struggling jazz musician who fall in love in Los Angeles, the musical charmed critics and soared at the box office.

“This was a movie about love and I was lucky enough to fall in love while making it,” said Chazelle, 32, the youngest filmmaker by several months ever to win a best directing Oscar.

Casey Affleck poses with the Oscar for Best Actor during the 89th Annual Academy Awards on February 26, 2017, in Hollywood, California © AFP / FREDERIC J. BROWN

“Manchester by the Sea” star Casey Affleck fended off competition from “Fences” lead Denzel Washington to take best actor while Stone beat Isabelle Huppert, star of edgy rape-revenge thriller “Elle,” for the best actress statuette.

“Manchester” went into the evening with six nominations but came away with only Affleck’s win and a best original screenplay statuette for Kenneth Lonergan, who also directed the film.

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