Freeze Frame: ‘This is not a joke’: The catastrophic Oscars blunder that unfolded in front of millions

Every year at the Oscars, the world waits with  bated breath as the Big Three awards are announced with gusto: Best Actress, Best Actor and – of course – Best Picture.

The nominees and recipients of these Academy Awards are often debated and sometimes fraught with controversy. But it’s rare that such a catastrophic blunder would occur like the incident in 2017.

The Best Picture gong that year was a hotly-contested race between fan favourite La La Land and the coming-of-age indie drama, Moonlight.

Watch the video above

READ MORE: Brutal divorce text that devastated Katy Perry in 2011

La La Land (2016)

Emma Stone had already taken home the coveted Best Actress award, so it didn’t strike anyone as odd that the film would also win Best Picture.

Little did the audience know, presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway had been handed the wrong winner’s card. The envelope named Emma Stone as the winner of Best Actress, but all they saw were the words La La Land.

This had never happened before in the history of the Academy Awards.

READ MORE: How Julia Roberts became a real-life ‘runaway bride’ in 1991

La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz was mid-acceptance speech with the entire cast and crew surrounding him on stage, when he learned the award was not actually theirs.

“This is not a joke,” he said, shocked. “Moonlight has won Best Picture… they have read out the wrong thing.”

89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California.

Host Jimmy Kimmel then came out to confirm this was “not a joke”, holding up the misread winner card to prove that Moonlight had justly won the award.

Once the audience determined the moment was not a poorly-thought out skit, their faces dropped. One snap can see the likes of Matt Damon, Meryl Streep, Michelle Williams and Meryl Streep with their mouths agape in surprise.

“We almost missed it. Michelle and I almost left early because we really had to pee – because we’re veteran Oscar attendees,” actress Busy Phillips told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018.

“We know that the line right after the ceremony is insane for the women’s room. But we stayed. Thank God!”

Horowitz also recalled thinking something was wrong while he was in the middle of his speech.

He noticed “somebody with a headset” frantically running onto the stage. “You could just feel something starting to turn,” he said.

Actor Ryan Gosling, who starred in La La Land, actually thought there was a medical incident going on behind-the-scenes, while singer John Legend believed there had been a tie between Moonlight and La La Land.

READ MORE: The VMAs performance that shattered Miley Cyrus’ good-girl image

Wrong Oscar winner announced – 2017

The Moonlight team then finally took to the stage to bask in the moment they so richly deserved.

Director Barry Jenkins and producers Adele Romanski and Jeremy Kleiner all gave short speeches, while Jenkins gave a shout-out to the La La Land team: “My love to La La Land, my love to everybody. Man.”

“I noticed the commotion but I was speechless when the result was altered. I’ve never seen that happen before,” he later told Forbes.

READ MORE: The 10 words that cost Oprah Winfrey $1 million in 1996

In the aftermath of the Oscars blunder, some blamed actor Warren Beatty for the mix-up.

But eventually, PriceWaterhouseCoopers – the account firm used for the Oscars voting process – took responsibility. 

“PwC takes full responsibility for the series of mistakes and breaches of established protocols during last night’s Oscars,” the company wrote in a statement.

The cast of Moonlight onstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California.

For a daily dose of 9Honey, subscribe to our newsletter here.

It blamed accountant and executive Brian Cullinan for handing Beatty and Dunaway the wrong envelope.

“Once the error occurred, protocols for correcting it were not followed through quickly enough by Mr Cullinan or his partner.”

The media went wild over the Oscars gaffe, with headlines ranging from #OscarsSoWrong to ‘You Had One Job!’

Presenter Jimmy Kimmel, who spoke about the incident at length on his talk show, had one last remark in 2018 about the infamous 89th Academy Awards.

“To this day, there are people who think I caused that envelope problem,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.

“Hopefully history will be kind to me in that regard, because one thing I definitely didn’t screw up was that.”