The moment that shocked Hollywood
The past 90 years of Oscars ceremonies have been filled with memorable moments, from streakers and pratfalls to emotional acceptance speeches and ties. But perhaps no moment will ever be as shocking as 2017’s show-ending mix-up, when La La Land was announced as Best Picture — only for it to be revealed that actually, Moonlight had won.
One year later, we look back at the Oscar moment that will live on in infamy.
Here's how it happened:
Bonnie and Clyde costars Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty reunited to announce the winner for Best Picture, but Brian Cullinan, one of the PricewaterhouseCooper accountants responsible for tallying the votes and preparing the envelopes, mistakenly gave Beatty the leftover envelope announcing Emma Stone’s Best Actress win for La La Land. After Beatty opened the envelope and silently read “Emma Stone, La La Land,” he paused, before showing the card to Dunaway. She read La La Land aloud, and the cast and crew took to the stage.
La La Land producers Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt, and Fred Berger took to the stage and began delivering their acceptance speeches, until…
After a few minutes, Oscar crew members and Cullinan came on stage to interrupt, examining Beatty’s envelope and eventually opening the correct Best Picture envelope.
Horowitz, still holding the Oscar, took the card and showed it to the audience. “I’m sorry, no, there’s been a mistake,” he said. “Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture. This is not a joke. Come up here.”
“I just knew it needed to be fixed,” Horowitz explained later. “Right then, I saw the cameraman and so I just locked my eyes on him, just looked right at him and thought, ‘I really hope you know what to do now.’ Luckily, he quickly zoomed in on the envelope, really fast. He totally nailed it.
The cast and crew of Moonlight, including Best Supporting Actress nominee Naomie Harris and writer Tarell Alvin McCraney, looked on in shock before slowly making their way to the stage.
The audience was equally baffled. Host Jimmy Kimmel had seated himself next to Matt Damon for a planned sketch at the end of the show, but as he watched the confusion onstage, he realized he had to step in.
“We’re sitting there, and we notice some commotion going on,” Kimmel explained the next night in his Jimmy Kimmel Live monologue. “Matt says, ‘I think I heard the stage manager say they got the winner wrong,’ which is unusual, but you figure, well, the host will go onstage and clear this up. And then I remember, oh, I’m the host.”
Even those on stage were confused. A photo went viral of La La Land star Ryan Gosling watching the chaos unfold, and he later explained that when the show’s producers rushed the stage to interrupt the La La Land acceptance speeches, his first thought was that someone had been hurt.
“And then I just heard, ‘Oh, Moonlight won,’ and I was so relieved that I started laughing,” he told Entertainment Tonight.
Kimmel made his way to the stage, while Beatty addressed the audience, saying, “I want to tell you what happened. I opened the envelope and it said: ‘Emma Stone, La La Land.’ That’s why I took such a long look at Faye and at you. I wasn’t trying to be funny.”
“Well, you were funny,” Kimmel cracked.
Finally, the cast and crew of Moonlight made their way to the stage, where Jenkins delivered a bewildered but impassioned speech.
“There was a time when I thought this movie was impossible because I couldn’t bring it to fruition,” he said. “I couldn’t bring myself to tell another story. And so everybody behind me on this stage said, ‘No, that is not acceptable.’ So I just want to thank everybody up here behind me, everybody out there in that room, because we didn’t do this, you guys chose us. Thank you for the choice.”
Jenkins later revealed that despite Moonlight’s eventual triumph, the win was bittersweet — and he still regrets the circumstances.
“I’ve never been as distraught as I was at the Vanity Fair party after the Oscars,” Jenkins told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s not the kind of thing where you go running off with pompoms. I wasn’t sure that thing was mine or who it belonged to because of how everything happened.”
In December 2017, the Oscars introduced new rules to prevent another envelope mixup. Now, the Pricewaterhouse Cooper accountants will confirm with each celebrity presenter that they’ve handed them the correct envelope, and a third PwC employee will now sit inside the show’s control room, with the full list of winners.
As for the rest of the show? After both the Moonlight and La La Land folks left the stage, Kimmel awkwardly wrapped things up, telling the audience, “I knew I would screw this show up, I really did!”