It was an evening of surprises- some intentionally planned by Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel and at least one definitely not expected. The shocker came at the end of the show, and it momentarily stunned both the audience in the Dolby Theatre and worldwide TV viewers.
Traditionally, the Best Picture announcement is the most anticipated award of the evening and is the last award given. In honor of the 50th anniversary of 1967’s landmark film “Bonnie and Clyde,” co-stars Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway had been selected to make the presentation.
When Beatty opened the envelope, he did a double-take, looking inside the envelope more than once. Dunaway, thinking he was just extending the suspense, jokingly told Beatty, “You’re Impossible, c’mon,” When he showed her the card, she announced “La La Land” as the winner.
No sooner had the producers of “La La Land” begun their acceptance speeches than there was a commotion at one side of the stage. Ultimately it was revealed that Beatty had been handed the wrong envelope. The one he received was a back-up announcement of Emma Stone’s win for Best Actress in “La La Land,” which had already been awarded by Leonardo DiCaprio. This explained Beatty’s confusion but unfortunately he didn’t say anything at that moment. And, it appears Dunaway only looked at the name of Stone’s film, rather than reading the entire contents of the card.
The actual Best Picture recipient was “Moonlight.” “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz made the announcement and then led his team off stage so that the “Moonlight” team could have its moment in the spotlight.
PricewaterhouseCoopers tabulates and safeguards the Academy’s voting results. In a statement released via the Academy shortly after midnight, PwC stated: “We sincerely apologize to ‘Moonlight,’ ‘La La Land,’ Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture. The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred. We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation.”
Such a mistake does have a precedent in Oscar history. In 1964, while presenting Best Music Score (adaptation or treatment), Sammy Davis, Jr. was handed an envelope naming a winner who was instead nominated for Best Music Score (substantially original). In the time honored tradition of “the show must go on,” Davis and the audience handled the mistake with humor and grace. Likewise, once the initial shock wore off, Kimmel and the “La La Land” and “Moonlight” teams all showed support for each other.
Most of the pre-Oscars ceremony buzz had centered on whether awardees would make (or should make) statements regarding the current US political situation. Event producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd attempted to play down potential conflict by suggesting nominees gear their acceptance speeches toward what inspired their careers and roles. De Luca specifically encouraged nominees to speak about, “What the movies mean to you, about your personal journey.”
For the most part, the recipients stuck to that formula. Especially noteworthy speeches were made by the Supporting Actor and Actress awardees, Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”) and Viola Davis (“Fences”). Ali praised his acting teachers for instilling in him the understanding that when he performs, it’s not about him but about the character he is portraying.
Davis gave a heartfelt, extemporaneous speech that praised the art of acting, saying it is about telling “the stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost.” She praised the late August Wilson, writer of the screenplay for “Fences,” and her co-star/ director of that film, Denzel Washington.
Host Jimmy Kimmel momentarily turned serious when he spoke of the need for national unity. But he quickly turned to humor, riffing on the President’s Twitter critique of Meryl Streep as “one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood.” This resulted in a standing ovation for Streep who was attending as a Best Lead Actress nominee for her role in “Florence Foster Jenkins.”
Kimmel let singer Justin Timberlake open the show with Best Song-nominated “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” which had the audience dancing, setting an upbeat mood for the ceremony. Other fun moments included a selection of candies and treats parachuting down from the ceiling to the nominees who were waiting until the after-parties to eat. Kimmel also surprised a busload of tourists, letting them meet the front row of A-list celebrities and pose for photos. And, he conducted a “feud” with actor Matt Damon.
The political statements that were made primarily came from presenters. Actor Gael Garcia Bernal, during the presentation of the Best Animated Feature nominees, spoke of his own experience, saying, “As a Mexican, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I’m against any form of wall that separates us.”
At the conclusion of Sting’s performance of the nominated song “The Empty Chair,” an image of the late journalist James Foley (upon whose life the movie “Jim: The James Foley Story” is based) was shown with Foley’s words: “If I don’t have the moral courage to challenge authority…we don’t have journalism.”
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi whose film “The Salesman” won Best Foreign Language Film, did not attend the ceremony due to the Trump administration’s recent attempt to ban immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim nations, including Iran. Anousheh Ansari, the first Iranian to travel into space, accepted the award on Farhadi’s behalf. As part of his statement, Farhadi reminded his audience, “Dividing the world into the ‘us’ and ‘our enemies’ categories creates fears…Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions.” His call to remember and celebrate all that unites humanity set a positive tone that was echoed in many of the speeches and performances of the evening’s celebration of the American film industry.