By Kallie Gregg
The biggest cinematic twist of the year was not found—one of the Academy Award nominees for best picture—it occurred during the award ceremony itself.
At the end of the evening, actors Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway took the stage to announce which movie the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had selected as 2016’s best film. Beatty appeared confused when opening the envelope, hesitating before Dunaway announced that “La La Land” was the winner.
However, midway through the “La La Land” team’s acceptance speeches, producer Jordan Horowitz came to the microphone, Oscar statuette in hand.
“You guys, I’m sorry, no,” he said, “There’s a mistake. ‘Moonlight,’ you guys won best picture.”
He insisted it was not a joke, gesturing to the stunned “Moonlight” cast and crew in the audience, then snatching an envelope from Beatty’s hand and holding it to the camera.
It was a moment of profound awkwardness and confusion, and a disservice to both production crews. For “La La Land,” it was a heartbreaking redaction. “Moonlight,” in turn, was denied a well-deserved opportunity to give acceptance speeches and celebrate their victory.
A coming-of-age story following a young black man in Miami navigating his sexuality, “Moonlight” was one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. It won best picture on a $1.5 million budget.
After the chaotic conclusion to the ceremony, director Barry Jenkins tweeted, “STILL SPEECHLESS,” alongside a photo of the correct Best Picture envelope, with the name of his film listed inside.
Directed by Jenkins and starring an ensemble cast of Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali, Ashton Sanders, Alex. R Hibbert, Trevante Rhodes, and André Holland, “Moonlight” also won for performance by an actor in a supporting role (Ali), and adapted screenplay.
While the explanation of how exactly the mix-up occurred is still murky, it appears that Beatty and Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope—the one for Emma Stone’s best actress performance in “La La Land” rather than the one for best picture.
Horowitz and Jenkins interacted on Twitter following the ceremony on Monday morning, with Jenkins writing, “Jordan Horowitz. Wow. I’m slipping slowly into reflection, perspective. Much respect to that dude.”
“Thank you, Barry. Congratulations and much love,” Horowitz responded.
Despite the snafu, “La La Land” was the most awarded film of the evening, winning for directing (Damien Chazelle), performance by an actress in a leading role (Stone), original score, original song, cinematography, and production design.
Additionally, Viola Davis won her first Oscar after three previous nominations, for her supporting role in “Fences.”
“I became an artist and I thank God I did,” she said in her acceptance speech, “because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”
Casey Affleck, nominated for “Manchester by the Sea” was the winner for best performance by an actor in a leading role. “Manchester by the Sea” also won for best original screenplay, beating out “La La Land,” “Hell or High Water,” “The Lobster,” and “20th Century Women.”
Other notable wins included “Zootopia” for best animated feature, “O.J.: Made in America” for documentary feature, and “The Salesman” for best foreign film.
Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director of “The Salesman” did not attend the ceremony, choosing to boycott it in protest of President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from Muslim countries. Instead, his acceptance speech was delivered by Anousheh Ansari, who in 2006 became the first female space-tourist.