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The colossal Oscars mixup that will go down in history

Joshua Rothkopf
Written by
Joshua Rothkopf

Normally we reserve this space for a recap of the few sparks of a generally dull ceremony, and last night's Oscars certainly had its share. There were zingers launched at Donald Trump from host Jimmy Kimmel (relaxed and confident as the night's emcee), and stirring statements of international solidarity from presenters Gael García Bernal, Meryl Streep and many more. Here's a full list of winners.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Academy Awards

But #EnvelopeGate is what all viewers will be talking about for years to come. In a staggering mistake, the wrong Best Picture was read from the wrong card. For a couple of minutes (and no more), La La Land was the night's big winner, long enough for three producers to make their joyous acceptance speeches. But then, La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz came to the microphone and said, "No, there's a mistake. Moonlight—you guys won Best Picture. This is not a joke."

The crowd audibly gasped. Here's a complete play-by-play of how it went down:

Presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, reunited 50 years after Bonnie and Clyde, walk downstage, the Best Picture envelope in hand. After some banter, the nine nominees are read and Beatty opens the envelope. Smiling and slightly confused, he shows the card to Dunaway, who thinks he's just stretching out the tension to be coy. "You're impossible," she teases. (Actually, it turns out Beatty was legitimately flummoxed.) He gives the card to her and she declares, "La La Land."

It turns out that the envelope they had in hand was actually the one for Best Actress: Emma Stone, La La Land. (Kimmel would later confirm that Beatty showed him the card with the wrong information on it, while Stone herself says she was holding her own card.) Telecast producers and technicians begin to swarm the stage in a frenzy, delivering the right card to Horowitz, who then shows it to the camera: Moonlight, Best Picture.

The shifting emotions are excruciating to watch. Horowitz, a gent, tries to salvage a bit of grace, saying he's honored to give the statuette over: "I'm going to be really proud to hand this to my friends from Moonlight," he says, to applause. But it's hardly the huge, rousing wave that would have erupted if the correct card had been read. Damien Chazelle, La La Land's writer-director, looks stunned and quickly walks offstage. It's been reported that he never went backstage to meet the press, customary for a Best Director winner. (You can't not feel for Chazelle during this mishegos.) Moonlight's director Barry Jenkins, still in the audience, has his hand to his mouth, unsure of the upset he's just pulled off.

Clearly, the wrong envelope was given to Beatty and Dunaway, a first in Oscar history. (You can see evidence of that here.) There will be serious repercussions for this: Someone's going to get fired.

Lost in the confusion is the magnitude of the upset that Moonlight pulled off. It's the first gay film to ever win Best Picture. Brokeback Mountain came this close to that achievement. And it's a cruel way for Team La La Land to end their months-long campaign: to actually be onstage accepting the Oscar and then learn that they've been beaten. At an afterparty, Faye Dunaway refused to comment on the mixup. She shouldn't have read the card to begin with. But who can blame her? She improvised.

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