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Exactly What Went Wrong With the Oscars Best Picture Mistake

2 minute read

Accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers—the company responsible for managing the envelope distribution at the Academy Awards since 1934—has finally released an official explanation for the Sunday night mixup that led La La Land to originally receive the Best Picture trophy, before the error was corrected and Moonlight instead took to the stage to accept the honor.

“We clearly made a mistake and once the mistake was made we corrected it and owned up to it,” Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman and senior partner for PricewaterhouseCoopers, told Variety. “At the end of the day, we made a human error,” he said to USA Today.

Here’s how it happened, according to PwC. Two copies of each envelope are stationed on opposite sides of the stage, with two accounting partners—Martha Ruiz and Brian Cullinan—overseeing the envelopes. Cullinan, who was stage left, apparently drew the wrong envelope from the wrong pile, handing that off to presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. It was a “backup” envelope that stated Emma Stone’s name; she had just received her own award, with that envelope coming from Ruiz on the other side of the stage.

“He feels very, very terrible and horrible. He is very upset about this mistake. And it is also my mistake, our mistake, and we all feel very bad,” Ryan said of Cullinan and their team. They had also issued an apology statement soon after the broadcast wrapped, promising an investigation.

To all the conspiracy theorists: it looks like this one, at least, can be chalked up to simple human error.


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Write to Raisa Bruner at raisa.bruner@time.com