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What really happened during the La La Land/Moonlight Best Picture mix-up

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An investigation

89th Annual Academy Awards - Show Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The most memorable moment from last night’s Oscars — perhaps of the last decade when it comes to the award ceremony — was the mixup surrounding the Best Picture Winner.

Bonnie and Clyde’s Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty took the stage to announce the winner and after what appeared to be some playing around, which turned out to be actual confusion, Dunaway and Beatty called out La La Land’s name. It would have been fine, of course, if La La Land had actually won, but Moonlight was the actual recipient of the award. The chaos led to this fantastic moment featuring La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz clambering to reach the microphone on stage and announce the mishap.

This is the first time a mix-up of this magnitude has occurred at the Oscars and the biggest question is, of course: How? While on stage, Beatty gave a quick explanation for how the wrong name came to be called, saying that when he opened the envelope he saw Emma Stone’s name — that’s why he took such a long time announcing the winner.

“I wasn’t trying to be funny,” Beatty said. “This is Moonlight, the best picture.”

The way the Oscars work, there are a couple of people who stand backstage and are in charge of handing the secure envelopes to presenters. Based on Beatty’s explanation of what happened, it seems plausible that while people were prepping to hand out envelopes backstage, the envelope got mixed up.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Following the mixup, Emma Stone told reporters backstage that she was holding onto her envelope the entire time. Her award was given out just before the Best Picture winner was announced, but according to the actress, she never gave back the envelope with her name on it.

“I was holding the best actress card the entire time. I had that card. I’m not looking to start anything,” Stone told reporters backstage, as reported by Deadline. “I don’t know what happened (with them), but I wanted to tell all of you first. I think everyone is in a state of confusion, but everyone is excited for Moonlight. A strange happening for Oscar history.”

Well, huh. It might seem like Stone’s answer definitively shot down Beatty’s explanation for what happened, but one person on Twitter pointed out that if you zoom in on the envelope in Beatty’s hand, it definitely says “Best Actress” on the back.

And yet the main card confirming the winner clearly had Moonlight’s title written in bold.

It’s not like Beatty didn’t know something was up, either. When he was handed the envelope, he proceeded to stall on stage and even looked into the packet to see if there was another card. He turned to Dunaway almost as a last resort, unsure of what happened, but there’s no mistaking that Beatty knew something was wrong before the moment even happened.

The clearest explanation for what happened is Beatty and Dunaway received the card for Best Picture but the envelope for Best Actress and someone on the envelope La La Land’s name was written. Despite the awkwardness of the moment, both La La Land and Moonlight’s team celebrated the wins. Backstage, Horowitz said he was happy to share it with his friends.

“I was really happy to give it to all my friends from Moonlight,” Horowitz told E! backstage. “We’ve been on a real journey for the past six months.”

It wasn’t until this morning that confirmation about what happened came down in the form of a statement from Oscar bosses.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, the company that counts and handles the Oscar ballots, confirmed that it would launch a full investigation into last night’s kerfuffle to try and figure out what happened.

“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,” a statement from the company reads. “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.”

The full list of Oscar winners can be seen here, but despite losing out on Best Picture, La La Land walked away with the most awards. The film took home six of the 14 awards it was nominated for.