The world stopped spinning Sunday night as the producers of La La Land suddenly halted their acceptance speeches for Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards. Why? Well, they weren’t the rightful winners—the Oscar was meant to go to Moonlight. So, how did such a huge mistake occur on live TV and how do all the players involved recover from such an unprecedented glitch? First, let’s look at who’s in the (unwanted) spotlight:
There were the presenters, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Warren was obviously confused—it’s come out now that the envelope he had was for Emma Stone’s Best Actress in La La Land win. Hence why he handed the card to Faye to see if she could make sense of it—and why she then pronounced La La Land as the winner.
And then there’s the accounting team of PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has overseen the Academy's ballot-counting process for 83 years, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Adding to the chaos, it turns out that the firm provides two sets of winners' envelopes in briefcases that are placed either side of the stage. This is so presenters entering from both sides have easy access. In this case, the system backfired and somehow Warren and Faye were handed the wrong envelope. PwC released the following statement last night: "We sincerely apologize 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 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 Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation."
Host Jimmy Kimmel came out on stage and jokingly accepted the blame as the stunned producers and cast of Moonlight and La La Land graciously made sense of what happened. Which raises the overall question: Were things handled properly? And what happens next? To answer these questions, we turned to entertainment publicists Beth Feldman, co-founder of the Beyond PR Group and Elissa Buchter, founder of Schmooze PR. Beth has over 25 years in the entertainment industry and has publicized everything from The Ricki Lake Show to the Grammys. Currently her firm handles blogger outreach for major film and TV studios. Elissa has more than a decade working with brands and celebrities including Real Housewives, stars of Vanderpump Rules, and Dancing with the Stars contestants.
It was obvious that Warren Beatty was confused by what he saw on the card—and he did own up to that—but should he have said something in the moment, rather than handing the card to Faye Dunaway (who was ultimately the one who deemed La La Land the winner)?
Beth Feldman: At first, I really thought they both needed their glasses and were having a hard time reading the card, but obviously, there was something wrong and Beatty was having a hard time deciding what to do at that moment. He should have never handed the card to Faye Dunaway because it then looked like she made the mistake. Warren Beatty should have said right at that moment that he had the wrong card. Having Faye Dunaway take the fall was not the right way to go but at least he admitted it was his mistake right afterwards.
Elissa Buchter: I definitely don't think the onus falls on Warren Beatty, who's 79 and not a producer on the show. It's difficult to know exactly the right way to proceed on live TV in front of hundreds of millions of viewers when you're handed a hot potato like he was. Had he questioned the authenticity of the card live on stage and it was accurate, he would've looked worse.
Faye Dunaway refused to speak to reporters about what happened last night—good or bad move?
BF: I'm sure she was probably extremely embarrassed by what happened. She's a Hollywood legend and for a mistake like that to be made where she winds up reading the wrong winner is mortifying. I'm sure she was angry and rightly so. She doesn't have to say anything—she wasn't supposed to read the card in the first place and she probably just saw La La Land and not Emma Stone's name and just read what was on the card. You certainly can't mistake La La Land for Moonlight!
EB: From a PR perspective, it's a bad move because she isn't capitalizing on being involved in the evening's most talked about moment.
What are your thoughts on the way PricewaterhouseCoopers responded? Is there is anything else they should do now?
BF: I think they handled it professionally. They should obviously have a plan in place so that this never happens again but that's the nature of live television. Learn from your mistakes and make sure it never happens again. I read that in 1940, the Academy had put an embargo out with the names of the winners and the LA Times released it prior to the west coast feed of the show—which meant that everyone in the audience knew who won. Once they realized that was a huge mistake, they never released the winners’ names to the press in advance ever again.
EB: If PwC were my client, I wouldn't have recommended giving that statement because for the general population who hadn't put two and two together, there was nothing directly tying them to this incident. Now with their acknowledgment, it appears they're accepting blame and that statement will be tough to swipe from their google search for a long time to come.
Should the Academy launch an investigation of some sort to figure out how this happened?
BF: There doesn't need to be a witch hunt for the mistake. If the story is true that there were two cards for Best Actress and one of them wound up in Warren Beatty's hands, then clearly, someone on stage handed him the wrong card. I'm sure that person feels incredibly guilty about it but no harm, no foul. Mistakes happen and that person will never ever make that mistake again.
EB: I'm sure they'll consider what happened to avoid a similar embarrassment from taking place in the future. Though conspiracy theories already abound—did Leonardo DiCaprio walk off stage with an extra card in hand thereby setting the unfortunate chain of events into motion? But, this isn't the Russian dossier and after 83 years getting it right, a simple review of the situation should suffice.
Overall, what’s the main takeaway for the viewers?
BF: The truth will always set you free. Although, one must wonder...was this really the first time this ever happened? I mean, remember all the rumors about Marisa Tomei and whether she did in fact win the Best Supporting Actress award for her role in My Cousin Vinny? I guess that mystery will always remain unsolved.
EB: Given our current political climate and with the rightful owners in possession of the award, it should be easier keep things in perspective and have a little chuckle at the awkward moment at someone else's expense.