The Academy Giveth; The Academy Taketh Away


Every night when I go to bed, I pray that I will learn two things before I die:

  1. What happens if the final tribal council vote on Survivor is a tie; and
  2. What happens if the wrong winner is announced, on live TV, during the Oscar broadcast.

While I may be left wondering about the Survivor thing for some time to come, (damn it CBS, just tell us already!) Sunday night’s 89th Academy Awards broadcast answered my second burning question. Oddly, I suspect the answer might be the same for #1 as well.

Chaos. That’s what happens.

Let’s take a step back for a second. I’m sure that approximately 1.2 billion blog posts are in the works as we speak to analyze what happened. All I know is that only two people know the results of the Oscar ballots prior to their reveal during the ceremony (Please, Jeff, I’m begging you). These two people are accountants from PricewaterhouseCoopers, the company that apparently hates predictable results as much as they hate the space bar. The two accountants arrive each year on the red carpet with a briefcase each containing identical copies of all award envelopes to be presented. Let’s be real, they probably have a taser hidden somewhere too.


Right, so they arrive and are ushered back stage where they are positioned on opposite sides of the stage. The idea is that no matter which side of the stage a presenter enters from, an envelope will be there waiting for them. It makes a lot of sense from a production standpoint since I’m sure PwC doesn’t care to also include stage direction on the outside of their envelopes. It’s a flexible model to accommodate the fluid nature of live television.

So presumably the issue here is that Leonardo DiCaprio enters from one side of the stage, collecting the Best Actress envelope as he saunters out. Once that award and acceptance speech are done, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway enter from the opposite side and are accidentally handed the same envelope. It’s not that the Best Picture envelope contains the Best Actress card, it’s that two identical copies of each award envelope exist. So Beatty opens the award and looks confused by the sound of his illustrious career swishing by his ears. Welcome to Internet Meme-ry, Warren. It’s nice of you to join us.

Joking aside, you can’t help but feel bad for the presenters in addition to the mistakenly awarded. They’re reading from the wrong card! What is more it’s the perfect storm of screw-ups. Not only is La La Land a believable winner for the Best Picture category (we’d all have been confused if it was O.J.: Made in America in the envelope), but Emma Stone’s win is also required in order to facilitate that mistake. If Meryl Streep’s name is in the envelope, we’d never have believed Florence Foster Jenkins won an award it wasn’t nominated for – even Meryl can’t pull that one off.


So La La Land is announced, awards are handed out, speeches are made (oh God, the cringe!), chattering begins in the background, and chaos ensues – along with a pretty gracious hand-over (kudos to La La Land for that).

I know that we need to talk about Moonlight‘s win – and we will. It’s a little unfortunate that it was overshadowed by the debacle and I’ve seen that same feedback from a number of bloggers this morning – but, BUT: This. Is. History! It’s a historic win and a historic mistake! Especially in the Best Picture category – the award of the night (or early morning…excuse me while I cry into my Eastern Standard Time a little). It’s what makes these sorts of live shows fun. We all loved Jennifer Lawrence a little bit more after she tripped up the stairs a few years ago. Whenever people go off-script, the audience leans in and they’re more likely to tune in next year.

Yeah we didn’t have a moment to really reflect on the magnitude of a Moonlight win, but we will be talking about the Moonlight win for years and years to come. I’d argue it might even be good for Moonlight – think of the free press! Controversy breeds interest. If the film is a classic, it will be a classic, debacle or no.

It was an unpredictable end to an otherwise over-inflated, boring, soggy bread (Jeremy Renner?) ceremony. For now, I’m satisfied to have the answer to at least one of my burning questions! (You have the power to end this, CBS.)


This morning, I read this article from Vox to get a better understanding of what had unfolded. All images are taken from the Academy’s website.

Disclaimer: I know there was more to this year’s ceremony than just this episode. I’m going to write about how and why Moonlight won, how and why La La Land lost, and what it means for our place in Oscar history. Once I do, I’ll post a link here.


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