Newsletter: ‘Moonlight’ gets the Oscar after a mix-up for the ages

"Moonlight" writer-director Barry Jenkins is stunned after winning for best picture.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Academy Awards are over, and “Moonlight” (we think) is your best picture winner.

Welcome to the Gold Standard, the newsletter from the Los Angeles Times that helps guide you through the ins and outs of the awards season. I’m Glenn Whipp, The Times’ awards columnist and your newsletter host.

When presenter Warren Beatty handed the envelope for best picture to his “Bonnie and Clyde” costar Faye Dunaway and she proclaimed “La La Land” the winner, it looked as if the Oscars had reached the conclusion most people (myself included) had expected.

Then after “La La Land” producers Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt and Fred Berger gave heartfelt acceptance speeches, spreading the thank-yous like flower petals, stage manager Gary Natoli rushed on stage. Confusion reigned. And then Horowitz announced the unthinkable: There had been a mistake. “La La Land” wasn’t the best picture winner. “Moonlight” was.


“I will say that the folks from ‘La La Land’ were so gracious,” “Moonlight” writer-director Barry Jenkins told The Times. “I can’t imagine being in their position and having to do that. I wasn’t speechless because we won. I was speechless because it was so gracious of them to do that. The card said: ‘best picture: Moonlight.’”

Jenkins didn’t harbor any hard feelings about the mix-up.

“It’s unfortunate that things happened the way they did,” he said, “but hot damn, we won best picture.”

I explain here how the tide turned in “Moonlight’s” favor and how the academy’s preferential ballot probably helped Jenkins’ movie to win the best picture Oscar.

The night’s other big winners were Casey Affleck, taking lead actor for “Manchester by the Sea,” Emma Stone winning lead actress for “La La Land,” Viola Davis earning the supporting actress Oscar for “Fences” and Mahershala Ali taking supporting actor for “Moonlight.”

“La La Land’s” Damien Chazelle won the Oscar for direction.

My colleague Josh Rottenberg captures the sweep of the show, along with some of the more memorable moments, in his story. Plus, catch up on the full list of nominees and winners.

"Moonlight" writer-director Barry Jenkins accepts the award for best picture after a mix-up in announcing the winner.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)



So how could such a mix-up even occur? PricewaterhouseCoopers has apologized and said it’s investigating. Stone said backstage that she was holding her lead actress card when “La La Land” was incorrectly announced as best picture. It turns out that for each category, there are two cards waiting in the wings, one on each side.

As for Beatty’s take, he told The Times: “I looked down at the card and thought, this is very strange, because it says best actress. Maybe there was a misprint. I don’t know what happened. And that’s all I have I have to say on the subject.”

Michael De Luca, one of the Oscar ceremony producers, was walking down a backstage hallway toward the Governor’s Ball when he stopped to greet someone.


Asked if everything was OK, he responded: “It’s OK for some, but not OK for others. It’s not OK for the academy. But it was great live television.

Times film critic Kenneth Turan summed it up: “Not since a Chicago newspaper headlined ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ has there been a massive public screw-up on the order of what happened at the Oscars on Sunday night. But it’s an ill wind that blows nobody some good, and the huge embarrassment for Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway and the academy may turn out to be a good thing for the Oscars.”

Emma Stone on the Oscars red carpet.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)



Times fashion writer Adam Tschorn took in what is for many the highlight of the Academy Awards — massive mess-ups in announcing the best picture winner excepted. The vibe on the red carpet this year was decidedly retro.

Think “throwback silhouette gowns, rich velvet fabrics, details including romantic lace and trailing capes, and sparkling accessories such as jeweled headbands and focus-pulling statement necklaces.”

What was behind such nostalgia? As Tschorn posits, “the takeaway — at least to those of us watching the red carpet arrivals — was of an entertainment industry trying to escape, at least wardrobe-wise, to the ‘good old days’ — or at least, to an era that’s not as fraught as the current one.”

As for who was best- and worst-dressed: Check out the photos here.



Up until the show’s final moments, many of the storylines revolved around greater diversity in the winners this year — black actors and filmmakers took home a record-breaking number of awards — and how those on stage would respond to President Trump.

Rather than a lot of fiery anti-Trump speeches, the Oscars did more “show” then “tell,” political columnist Cathleen Decker writes: “The global reach and the diversity of the winners served to distinguish Hollywood from the more inward focus of the president, whose ‘America first’ argument has in many ways distanced the country from other nations, particularly in the Muslim world and next-door Mexico.”



-- TV review: It was entertaining right up to, and especially at, the end.

-- Mahershala Ali on his historic win as the first Muslim to win an Oscar for acting.

-- Viola Davis, who is now one “G” from getting the EGOT, won an Oscar for her role in “Fences.”

-- The Oscars’ most quotable moments: “You guys won best picture. This is not a joke.”


-- A small group of Trump supporters rallied in Hollywood in advance of the Academy Awards.

-- The creators of the documentary winner “The White Helmets” talked about “shining a very bright light” on Syrian rescue workers.

-- And finally, just because we could use a laugh: Watch Jimmy Kimmel’s Oscars edition of “Mean Tweets.”



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