It was the moment that everyone was talking about last year; Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly announced La La Land as the Best Picture winner due to an administrative mix-up, whereby a duplicate envelope for the Best Actress category – an award that Emma Stone picked up earlier that same night – was wrongly handed to the presenters.
Minutes later, in a frantic effort to rectify the blunder, the cast and crew of Moonlight were invited on to the stage, with the Barry Jenkins-directed drama being named the true winner of the prestigious award, leading to several audible gasps and an appropriate amount of seat-squirming from the audience.
For the past year, PricewaterhouseCoopers, the firm responsible for the balloting process at the Academy Awards, has reportedly been investigating the issue in a bid to prevent a similar mishap in the future. According to the company’s chairman, Tim Ryan, new protocols and safeguards have been put in place ahead of this year’s event, which he will personally oversee.
“One of the most disappointing things to me was all the great work that had been done, not only last year but over the last 83 years, around accuracy, confidentiality integrity of that process.”
“And where we got it wrong was on the handing over of the envelope,” Ryan explained to the Associated Press.
He also revealed that Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz, the two PwC partners who were previously responsible for the envelope process and ensuring an error-free ceremony, have not been invited back to the Oscars this year, though they have kept their jobs with the accounting firm. Rick Rosas and Kimberly Bourdon will replace their roles, stationed at either side of the stage.
Additionally, a third ballot partner will be acting as a “safety control” alongside the Oscar producers, who will be situated inside the show’s control room at the Dolby Theater, with the complete set of winners envelopes committed to memory. The three partners will perform their duties prior to the event, as they have been scheduled to attend all of the rehearsals.
“Because, as you’re well aware, it took a long time to respond last year when there was a mistake that we made. So we’re formally practicing the what-ifs.”
Other changes include a new verification process, in which each celebrity presenter will be required to validate they have the correct envelope for their category before taking to the stage, together with a policy that strictly prohibits the use of phones and social media as a further guarantee that the company’s “singular focus will be on the show.”
“I also know in my head that we haven’t left any step undone. We owe that to the Academy. While I feel very, very good about all the work that’s been done and the attention to detail that’s in place, our job doesn’t end until that curtain closes.”
Meanwhile, the Academy board members said they were happy to continue their partnership with the PwC agency, chalking the balloting blunder down to simple human error, as the same company has occupied the role for more than 80 years.
“Still, it was a big human error, and it was a very public human error,” Film Academy Chief Dawn Hudson concluded.
The 90th Academy Awards ceremony will be televised on March 4 from 7 p.m. ET on ABC.