“To err is human to forgive is divine.” ~ Alexander Pope.
I have witnessed a lot of uncomfortable and traumatic things on live television over the years—the Challenger crash, O.J. and the white Bronco, the Los Angeles riots, and the Janet Jackson costume mishap.
But, considering all of those awful moments, I have never sat through a more painfully awkward live television moment than this year’s attempt to announce the Best Picture award at the Oscars.
Witnessing the interruption of the overjoyed winner in the midst of his teary-eyed thank-you-mama-I-finally-made-it speech to tell him he was actually a loser was almost unbearable. Hollywood itself can’t even write this sh*t. But, it’s Saturday Night Live gold.
To set the scene, it was the eleventh hour for Hollywood’s biggest (and longest) night, and we were on the eve of the Best Picture award announcement.
The Academy had chosen Hollywood royalty to do the honors, and out walked our beloved American icons, Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, to present the most coveted prize.
All was going swimmingly, with each of them taking turns announcing the nominees, until the moment of truth came.
Warren Beatty opened the envelope and began to announce the winner but stopped short, looking puzzled at the card in front of him. He stammered and stuttered, and looked around as if confused. It seemed he was trying to draw out the suspense for cheap laughs and “good television” and I thought to myself, “Really, Warren—now is not the time to make this about you.” I was relieved when Ms. Dunaway grabbed the envelope from his hand, looked at the winner, and blurted out confidently, “La La Land.”
There were roars of applause and hugs, cheers, and tears as the entire cast and crew from the film emerged upon the stage. As one of the producers was giving his heartfelt acceptance and thank you speech, I noticed all kinds of commotion happening behind him. A production assistant from the show marched onstage, complete with headset and fanny pack, and began grabbing envelopes from the hands of the winners onstage.
I thought, “That’s so unclassy! Let these folks have their moment! I know there’s a time frame for the show and it usually goes over, but sheesh!” I envisioned an SNL skit for the upcoming weekend, spotlighting an uptight stagehand trying to rush the winners off stage while the orchestra played its famous and dreaded cut off serenade.
But, things grew more awkward.
The stage hand whispered something into the producer’s ear, who was in the midst of still giving his teary-eyed acceptance speech. The producer of La La Land then suddenly stated, “We lost. We actually lost. Moonlight is the winner.”
He held the correct card up to the camera with the words “Moonlight” and “Best Picture” for all the world to see. The La La Land cast and crew were heartbroken and rushed off the stage as a chaotic, confused and the stunned Moonlight gang took their place.
According to Warren Beatty, there was a mix up with the envelope and the card he was holding read, “Emma Stone, La La Land, Best Actress,” which she had just won previously. Warren, during the presentation, had been understandably confused—it was live TV and he wasn’t sure how to handle it, so he fumbled. Faye, taking matters into her own hands, grabbed the card from Warren and, looking down momentarily, saw the words La La Land and figured it was the winner—especially since it had been slaying with wins the entire ceremony, and had already tied for the most number of Oscars ever won in an single night.
It was an understandable mistake and a perfect storm.
But, let this be a lesson in mindfulness and compassion for all of us.
We must remember to slow down (Faye Dunaway), but not too slow (Warren Beatty), be mindful of our words and speech, take a breath, and ask questions clearly and concisely when we are confused about something, especially when it can so deeply affect the lives of others. We must be mindful of our actions, proofreading and checking our work (for the greater good of all) so we don’t stuff the wrong name in an award ballot at the Oscars, and especially for the biggest award of the evening. Ouch.
We must also remember to be compassionate. As humans, we have a magnificent ability to, at times, colossally f*ck it all up. And none of us are immune to this.
The poor dude stuffing envelopes could have been overly stressed by a demanding boss and deadlines, or distracted by a sick family member. I’m sure Faye and Warren didn’t sleep well that night, and for the next month, we’ll likely have our fill of ageism jokes made by mean-spirited people. The Academy itself must be absolutely mortified. And, poor Jimmy Kimmel. After being vocal about how nervous he was for the often highly-criticized gig, this is how he goes out and will be remembered? Double ouch.
But, it could have been any of us up there.
So, let’s turn this tragedy into a cautionary tale of mindfulness and slowing down. Congratulations to Moonlight—a beautifully brave, timely, and important film—for using the mighty Hollywood the way it should, as a vessel for truth and honesty, and to tell the stories of all people in order to move hearts and minds toward a more compassionate world for all. You deserve this accolade in spades, and I’m sorry your moment was so watered down and unbelievable.
Thank you as well to La La Land for taking us on a sweet and entertaining adventure of the American dream and bringing some feel-good greatness to these not-so-great times. And for bowing out so gracefully.
Author: Erika Anne Soerensen
Editor: Catherine Monkman