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Dublin: 1 °C Sunday 15 December, 2019

Explainer: The double envelope mix up that led to that Best Picture mess at the Oscars

Here’s what probably happened.

Source: Associated Press/YouTube

THE 2017 ACADEMY Awards will be remembered for one thing: they gave the Best Picture Oscar to the wrong film.

The big winner of the night was announced by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as La La Land, the musical extravaganza starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.

But they were wrong. Moonlight had won the Oscar. Beatty and Dunaway had been given the wrong envelope. And the mistake wasn’t realised until the La La Land crew were on the stage, accepting their award.

La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz delivered the news that “Moonlight won Best Picture. This is not a joke. They read the wrong thing”.

So what happened?

There are two separate sets of envelopes containing the winners’ names.

They’re brought to the Awards by partners at the accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Cooper, and kept on different sides of the stage to avoid any mix ups. A BBC interview with those partners a few days ago explains the process.

But when Warren Beatty opened the envelope supposedly announcing the Best Picture winner, it said ‘Emma Stone, La La Land’.

You can see his hesitation and momentary panic as he wonders what the blazes is going on, before his co-presenter Dunaway takes the card and reads the name of the film she sees in front of her: La La Land.


He had been holding the wrong envelope. He had opened an envelope which said ‘Actress In A Leading Role’ on it.

So that means….

Either Beatty had somehow gotten his hands on the envelope from the previous award handed out – to Emma Stone for Best Actress in a Leading Role in La La Land, OR the duplicate envelope had made its way into his paws.

Stone put the first theory to rest, telling reporters after the show that she was “holding my Best Actress in a Leading Role card that entire time… I had that card”.

Leonardo Di Caprio had handed her the card as they headed off stage after she made her speech (despite some theories that he hadn’t, and that it had somehow gotten into Beatty’s hands backstage).

You can see here in a snap taken as they come into the wings, she’s holding the card:

89th Academy Awards - Backstage Source: Matt Sayles

So it was the second option; Beatty had taken, or been given, the wrong envelope. USA Today’s report from backstage confirms this:

The accountant from PriceWaterhouseCoopers jumps up and says, “He (presenter Warren Beatty) took the wrong envelope!” and goes running onstage. Craziness breaks out. No one knows how Beatty got a best actress envelope; Stone later tells reporters in the media room that she has been holding her envelope the entire time.

La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz explained after the ceremony that he was holding the card Beatty had opened as he gave his ‘winning’ speech. But there was some commotion.

There was a guy, a stagehand guy, who started kind of buzzing around, looking for the envelope.

The stage hand took the card from Horowitz, opened it

…and it said ‘Emma Stone, La La Land’ on it. At that moment, it was clear there was a problem. They eventually found the best picture envelope.

89th Academy Awards - Show Source: Chris Pizzello

So, did Emma Stone’s winning envelope come from a PwC briefcase on one side of the stage, and the Best Picture envelope from a briefcase on the other side, leading to the mix up?

Did the mistake happen before they even got to the awards? Or was it just the backstage flurry?

Wonder what they’re all talking about at the after parties right now…

Update 8am

Pricewaterhouse Cooper has issued a statement:

17 of the most important moments from last night’s Oscars

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About the author:

Emer McLysaght

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