PwC apol­o­gizes for Os­car’s best pic­ture mixup

The Hamilton Spectator - - A & E - JOE MAYES AND ANOUSHA SAK­OUI

Price­wa­ter­house­Coop­ers apol­o­gized for one of the big­gest gaffes in Os­car his­tory, ac­cept­ing blame for a snafu that blem­ished the ac­count­ing firm’s rep­u­ta­tion.

Since 1935, the firm has used the Os­car spotlight to bur­nish its im­age and drum up business in Hol­ly­wood and be­yond. On Mon­day, PwC said it mixed up the en­velopes given to pre­sen­ters War­ren Beatty and Faye Du­n­away, an er­ror that led to “La La Land” be­ing in­cor­rectly given the best-pic­ture stat­uette be­fore view­ers were told of an un­scripted sur­prise twist: “Moon­light” had ac­tu­ally won.

“We are cur­rently in­ves­ti­gat­ing how this could have hap­pened, and deeply regret that this oc­curred,” Caro­line Nolan, a PwC spokesper­son, said in an email.

The in­ci­dent, broad­cast live to an au­di­ence of mil­lions, raises ques­tions about PwC’s han­dling of a high-pro­file ac­count it has touted as a sym­bol of its ac­cu­racy. Only two se­nior man­agers of the firm, which of­fers ac­count­ing and con­sult­ing ser­vices, knew who had won be­fore the awards were an­nounced.

“It’s hugely em­bar­rass­ing for PwC and it makes them look a bit ridicu­lous,” said Paul Hitchens, founder of Verve, which helps com­pa­nies build and main­tain brands.

Du­n­away, on­stage with Beatty, an­nounced “La La Land” as the best-pic­ture win­ner and mem­bers of the cast and pro­duc­tion team had al­ready taken the stage when the mis­take was cor­rected. In­stead “Moon­light,” a com­ing-of-age film about a black gay man, dis­trib­uted by tiny en­ter­tain­ment com­pany A24, walked away with Sun­day night’s big award.

PwC, then Price Water­house, first took on the bal­lot­ing du­ties to add re­spectabil­ity to the then-fledg­ling awards, ac­cord­ing to Mark Stevens’s book “The Big Eight.” Started in 1929, the Os­cars was bat­tling a per­cep­tion that back­room deals were be­ing struck for some awards, hence the need for an in­de­pen­dent au­di­tor, Stevens wrote.

Each awards since then, PwC has col­lected and counted the votes. For backup, its two main man­agers on the Os­cars ac­count travel to the event sep­a­rately, each car­ry­ing a suit­case with a du­pli­cate set of win­ning red en­velopes. For best pic­ture, Beatty said he was passed a card with the name of Emma Stone for “La La Land” — the best-ac­tress award she had al­ready re­ceived ear­lier in the evening.

“We sin­cerely apol­o­gize to ‘Moon­light,’ ‘La La Land,’ War­ren Beatty, Faye Du­n­away, and Os­car view­ers for the er­ror,” PwC said in the state­ment.

The PwC bal­lot­ing team was led this year by Martha L. Ruiz, who has spent more than 10 years work­ing be­hind the scenes on the Os­cars, and Brian Cul­li­nan, who’d worked on the lead­er­ship bal­lot­ing team since 2014. The pair were re­spon­si­ble for hand­ing the en­velopes to the pre­sen­ters be­fore they went on stage, ac­cord­ing to a video in­ter­view on PwC’s web­site.

The firm’s bal­lot­ing role re­sulted from “the rep­u­ta­tion PwC has in the mar­ket­place for be­ing a firm of in­tegrity, ac­cu­racy and con­fi­den­tial­ity,” Cul­li­nan said in the PwC in­ter­view. “It’s sym­bolic of how we’re thought of be­yond this role and how our clients think of us, and it’s some­thing we take very se­ri­ously.”

In a Fi­nan­cial News ar­ti­cle pub­lished last Fri­day, Cul­li­nan said the bal­lot­ing process doesn’t come up for ten­der as long as PwC’s re­la­tion­ship with the Academy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts & Sciences is strong and the firm does a good job, “which we al­ways do.”

The firm’s mis­step marred a break­through night for black film and for the academy.

The di­rec­tor of “Moon­light,” Barry Jenk­ins, de­scribed the mo­ment as “awkward.” Star Ma­her­shala Ali, win­ner of the best sup­port­ing ac­tor award for his por­trayal of a drug-deal­ing fa­ther fig­ure, said he was thrown by the mixup.

“It’s very hard to feel joy in a mo­ment like that,” Ali said. “I didn’t want to go up there and take any­thing from some­body.”

KEVIN WIN­TER, GETTY IM­AGES

KEVORK DJANSEZIAN, GETTY IM­AGES

Above: War­ren Beatty holds the en­ve­lope con­tain­ing the wrong award an­nounce­ment for Best Pic­ture. Left: “La La Land” pro­ducer Jor­dan Horowitz holds up the win­ner card read­ing ac­tual Best Pic­ture win­ner “Moon­light.”

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