The 89th Academy Awards seemed to be going pretty smoothly (for the most part) on Monday, until the final Oscar statue of the night was supposed to be handed out for best picture. Bonnie and Clyde costars Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway stepped on stage to present the big award, and as soon as Beatty opened the envelope and saw the name inside ("Emma Stone, La La Land"), it was clear that he was confused about something and looked at Dunaway for help. Annoyed that he wasn't announcing the winner, she took it upon herself to do it for him, telling the audience La La Land had won. The musical's production team took the stage and began their acceptance speeches, before La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz informed everyone that there had been a mistake with the envelopes; Moonlight was the true winner.
Since that shocking moment, no one has been able to stop talking about the mistake, which has resulted in major repercussions for the two people at the heart of the drama: Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz, two accountants for the PricewaterhouseCoopers firm, which has handled tallying up and protecting the top-secret list of winners for decades. PwC dispatches two of its trusted accountants to the big show each year, where they stand in opposite stage wings and are responsible for handing each set of presenters the appropriate winners envelopes before they walk out to the microphone. Let's review how this mistake even happened and what's gone down since.
- Feb. 26: The best picture nominees get mixed up. After Beatty and Dunaway crowned the wrong winner, it took Cullinan a solid minute and a half to inform them and the La La Land production team of the mistake (by which point they'd made two and a half acceptance speeches). That's when Horowitz stepped up to the mic to clear things up and call everyone involved with Moonlight to the stage.
- Feb. 26: PwC releases a statement apologising for the snafu. A few hours after the original gaffe, PwC released an apologetic statement about what happened, saying that it was "investigating how this could have happened" and appreciated "the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation."
- Feb. 27: PwC's Tim Ryan further elaborates on the mistake and definitely blames Cullinan. The US chairman and senior partner chalked it up to "a human error" and called out Cullinan's role in the whole thing. "What happened was, our partner on the left side of the stage, Brian Cullinan, he handed the wrong envelope to Warren Beatty. And then the second we realised that, we notified the appropriate parties and corrected the mistake," he explained. "It was a little chaotic and just took time to get out on stage and let people know that the mistake was made."
- Feb. 27: Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs shares her shocked reaction. In a brief chat with The New Yorker, she said her first reaction to the flub was "horror." "I just thought, What? What? I looked out and I saw a member of Pricewaterhouse coming on the stage, and I was, like, Oh, no, what — what's happening? What what WHAT? What could possibly . . . ? And then I just thought, Oh, my God, how does this happen? How. Does. This. Happen. . . . And it was such a wonderful show."
- Feb. 27: Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel explains the scandal on his show. During his monologue on Jimmy Kimmel Live! the following night, he attempted to explain the drama, saying that things were going well before "it turned into one of those Maury Povich paternity test shows." He also joked that "it was the weirdest TV finale since Lost."
- Feb. 28: PwC releases yet another apology over the best picture mistake. The accounting firm said it takes full responsibility for the error and explained exactly how the mistake occurred. "PwC partner Brian Cullinan mistakenly handed the back-up envelope for Actress in a Leading Role instead of the envelope for Best Picture to presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway," the firm said. "Once the error occurred, protocols for correcting it were not followed through quickly enough by Mr. Cullinan or his partner."
- Feb. 28: Warren Beatty makes an official statement. Many wrongly blamed Beatty for the mix-up since he was the one holding the actual envelope, which led him to make a statement to The Associated Press on the Tuesday after the Oscars: "I feel it would be more appropriate for the president of the Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, to publicly clarify what happened as soon as possible."
- March 1: Photos show Cullinan was on his phone and tweeting backstage right before handing Beatty the wrong envelope. Variety surfaced a handful of photos that seemed to disprove PwC's official explanation that he'd picked up the wrong envelope from a "backup pile." The pictures clearly show that not only was Cullinan on his phone (he was tweeting backstage photos of the winners but quickly deleted them after the best picture mistake), but he's also seen holding two red envelopes backstage with Beatty and best actor winner Casey Affleck, who'd just walked backstage after his win. This means that Cullinan was holding both the best actress envelope (which he accidentally handed to Beatty) and the best picture envelope (both were the night's final awards).
- March 1: The Oscars stage manager implies Cullinan and Ruiz were incompetent. In an interview with The Wrap, Oscars stage manager Gary Natoli revealed several ways Cullinan and Ruiz mishandled their jobs. Natoli said that although both accountants were supposed to have memorised the winners, when they heard the wrong winner announced, they both "froze" and didn't say anything. By the time Cullinan clued the producers in, a minute had past; they asked Ruiz to open the envelope, which she did, but with "no urgency." He added that Ruiz and Cullinan had to be pushed onstage to rectify the situation.
- March 1: The Academy severs ties with Cullinan and Ruiz. Although the two accountants will retain their jobs at PwC, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs has barred them from handing out envelopes at any future shows and said the Academy would be "reviewing its ties to PwC." Cullinan was the one to give Beatty the wrong envelope, so his punishment makes sense, and it seems as if Ruiz's mistake was not reacting.
- March 1: Rumours fly that Cullinan's social media use was originally approved. A source informed TMZ that not only was Cullinan's heavy use of social media throughout the night approved, but it was also encouraged.
- March 2: Bodyguards are hired for Cullinan and Ruiz. PwC was forced to hire a security service to ensure the protection of Cullinan and Ruiz due to the groups of people gathering outside of their respective homes (their addresses were shared on social media) and the serious death threats they and their families have received. "This isn't something we typically deal with," a representative from the firm said. "But the firm felt it was necessary based on the number of people outside their homes."