About three hours into the 89th Oscars ceremony on Sunday night, the press corps was getting restless. The telecast seemed to be striving to reach O.J. Made in America’s running time—and none of the major winners had yet come backstage for their Q&As. But then the “Warren Beatty” incident happened and the room erupted like we’ve never seen before. There were audible shouts, gasps, “Oh my Gods,” “holy shits” and a slew of Russian hacker-electoral college jokes. Reporter’s ledes had to be re-written for that crazy Hollywood ending.
Beatty, who presented the Best Picture Oscar with Faye Dunaway, fumbled with the card and showed it to Dunaway, who announced Damien Chazelle’s La La Land as the winner. The celebration began—until producer Jordan Horowitz showed the cameras the card in his hand, which read Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, as the real winner. Beatty then took to the mic and explained that it wasn’t meant as a joke, and that he had seen Emma Stone’s name and La La Land on the card.
Emma Stone, Oscar-winner for Best Actress in a Leading Role for La La Land, was the first actor in the pressroom from either La La Land or Moonlight after the on-stage mayhem. She took the mixup in stride, and said about the Best Picture winner, “I fucking love Moonlight. God, I love that movie so much.” She did, however, seem to debunk* Beatty’s explanation about reading her card. “I was holding my Best Actress card the entire time.”*
While The Academy hasn’t released a statement about the mixup, the Moonlight team was gracious backstage and declined to expand on the two-card theory in the Best Picture envelope. They wanted to move past the confusion. “[The mixup] made evening even more special,” Jenkins said. “But not in the way I expected.”
Chazelle, who won the Oscar for Direction, did not come back into the pressroom after the show.
*Update: PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has issued an apology for The Oscar fiasco.
There are two sets of envelopes with the winning names, and Dunaway and Beatty were given the wrong envelope. But why presenters didn’t call attention to the problem sooner is still befuddling. #Envelopegate continues…
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram