Oscars announce wrong Best Picture winner: How did this happen?

The accounting firm of Price Waterhouse (PwC) has been handling the ballot counting for the Oscars for 83 of its 89 years. But after Sunday’s snafu, in which Best Picture presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were given the wrong envelope, the academy may want to rethink this association.

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Prior to the opening of any envelope at the Oscars, only two people know the names of the winners: PwC partner Brian Cullinan and his associate Martha Ruiz. Each of them has a set of envelopes for all two dozen categories. Cullinan, the chairman of the US board of PwC, has led the Oscar ballot team since 2014 while Ruiz has been on the team for more than a decade.

Cullinan did make his way onstage to right this wrong but only after several minutes, during which the “La La Land” producers delivered heartfelt acceptance speeches. Kudos to one of them, Jordan Horowitz, for his graciousness when revealing to a stunned audience that “Moonlight” was the actual winner.

Oscars: Complete list of winners (and nominees)

Why did Beatty and Dunaway proceed with the Best Picture announcement when the envelope they were given was marked Actress in a Leading Role and the card inside clearly said Emma Stone, “La La Land”? Both surely have similar envelopes and cards as souvenirs from when they won their Oscars. Beatty won his for directing — shouldn’t he have called “cut” when he realized the mistake? And Dunaway got hers for acting — why did she not act her years instead of trying to be a coquette?

And what took Cullinan so long to bring this runaway train to a halt? We know he was waiting in the wings as he tweeted out a photo of Stone holding her Oscar as she awaited the announcement of Best Picture. He should have been out there before she or the rest of the “La La Land” folks made it to the mike. Remember, there are two sets of envelopes for each category — that is how Stone had hers clutched in her hand when she did join the “La La Land” team onstage. How did Cullinan and Ruiz not realize that they each still had a Best Picture envelope in their possession?

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There is precedence for an envelope switcheroo. Back in 1964, Sammy Davis, Jr. announced the winner of Original Score (“Tom Jones”) when he was meant to be presenting the award for Adapted Score, which went to “Irma La Douce.” That latter film starred Beatty’s sister, Shirley MacLaine, who was nominated for Best Actress back then (she lost to Patricia Neal for “Hud) and was in the audience tonight as well.

With PwC ballyhooing that it “celebrates its 83rd year leading the Oscars balloting process on behalf of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences,” it was on hand back in 1940 when the winners were revealed in advance by the Los Angeles Times. That was the ceremony that saw Hattie McDaniel became the first African American winner of an Oscar; she claimed the Supporting Actress award for “Gone With the Wind.”

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