Yesterday was the 87th Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars. Or technically today, considering it stretched well past midnight despite cutting off everyone but Viola Davis’s speeches at 30 seconds. Probably because the orchestra supposed to play her off was crying too.
For most of the evening it was mostly a typical Oscars night. The favorites were mostly winning with a handful of upsets, there were lots of awkward racial and political jokes, and celebrities got pelted in the back of their heads with boxes of junior mints. Nothing tops seeing the camera cut to Mel Gibson eating a package of Red Vines. Ryan Gosling showed up with his half naked sister, while the majority of women wore giant puffy dresses that looked like they were headed to Cinderella’s ball.
La La Land was considered by most to be the heavy favorite. Going into the night it had 14 nominations, tying the record for most nominations by a movie. By the end of the night, the film had taken home 6 of those 14. But the story of the 7th that they thought they had won is what everyone is talking about today.
Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were chosen to present the Oscar for best picture. It was what happened between the time they were handed the card with the winner’s name at the edge of the stage while waiting to go on, and the time Ms. Dunaway said “La La Land”, that the problems happened. Mr. Beatty was given the wrong envelope. It clearly said “Actress in a Leading Role”, and Mr. Beatty himself claims to have noticed this and thought it was a misprint. Then when he reached the stage and ultimately opened the envelope to see that it did, in fact, contain the card for “Actress in a Leading Role”, he did possibly the worst thing he could do. He handed the card to Faye Dunaway. Ms. Dunaway mindlessly read the name on the card and all hell broke loose.
It took several minutes, and several people from La La Land’s production team had already given speeches before the producer of the Oscars show stopped everything and revealed that the real winner was in fact Moonlight, not La La Land. He even had the correct card. Ta da!
So what went wrong, and how could it have at least been mitigated? It turns out that for every category there are two envelopes, each in separate cases at opposite ends of the stage monitored by accountants from PricewaterhouseCooper. First, the pair of accountants from PwC demonstrated to the world the care and thorough scrutiny the Big 4 accounting firms give their clients, which would explain a lot dating back to the run-up to the recession a decade ago. Yes, mistakes happen, but how hard is it to hand out 24 envelopes over the course of nearly four hours, especially when you supposedly only have one left where you’ve got two envelopes, and when they are clearly marked on the outside? Second, Mr. Beatty should have said something when he noticed the envelope was wrong on the outside, and then should have said something when it matched what was on the INSIDE. A lot of “wow, what a weird misprint” went on in Mr. Beatty’s head. He even could have been a hero in this. If, after opening the envelope and seeing it was wrong, Mr. Beatty had instead simply stuffed the card back into the envelope, held it up to the camera and said “I was given the wrong envelope. Hold on a minute”, then fixed it before announcing anything, he would have been the hero. Instead, in the face of the camera he’s been in front of for 50+ years, he froze. Third, the PwC people failed to follow their own procedure (at least at first) to run screaming onto the stage and stopping everything. The producers from La La Land made it all the way onto the stage, gave their speeches, then essentially gave a sad two line concession speech before handing their trophies over to the producers from Moonlight after the correction was made on the stage.
There were some winners in all this. Steve Harvey, for one. Marissa Tomei, the winner of the 1993 award for supporting actress, who was the victim of a long-held rumor that presenter Jack Palance read her name (Tomei being the only American nominated) instead of the “foreigner” who actually won. PwC, to their credit, always held that they would have intervened had that happened, and now we know that they do, in fact, eventually directly intervene, even if it takes a while.
Jimmy Kimmel also won, in that none of us are talking about the ridiculousness that was most of the night, like parading a tour bus tour group through the middle of the ceremony or pelting the celebrities with doughnuts parachuted into the theater. Doughnuts? Those people don’t eat doughnuts. Hell, the doughnuts weigh more than most of them do. One doughnut is like five days’ of calories for many of those actresses.
In the end, everything was straightened out. The producers from La La Land were very gracious in how they handled the situation, and publicly congratulated their friends who produced Moonlight.
Officially on the record, these are the 2016 Oscars. Looks like 2016 had one final horrific joke to play on us all.