HOLLYWOOD: Coming-of-age drama Moonlight celebrated its best picture Oscar Monday with the rest of Hollywood still reeling over an embarrassing mixup that threatened to eclipse a triumphant night for black cinema.
More than 30 million viewers witnessed Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly announce that musical La La Land had taken the top prize at Sunday’s (Monday morning in Manila) 89th Academy Awards, rather than the real winner.
Accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is responsible for tallying safeguarding Oscar votes and results, took the blame after the gala evening ended in chaos, vowing to investigate what had gone wrong.
The company said Monday a managing partner with years of experience at the Oscars had mistakenly handed Beatty, 79, a duplicate of the envelope announcing Emma Stone’s best actress win for La La Land.
“He is very upset about this mistake. And it is also my mistake, our mistake and we all feel very bad,” Tim Ryan, PwC’s US chairman, told trade magazine Variety.
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 Best Picture winner in history made by an African American directing an entirely black principal 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.
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.
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 far-right 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.
“I noticed the commotion and thought something was strange. And then I was speechless,” Jenkins said backstage.
“I’ve watched the Academy Awards before and have never seen that happen.”
PwC partner Brian Cullinan 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.
“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, according to reports.
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.
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.