Brian Cullinan and Martha L Ruiz, who were tasked with guarding the envelopes containing the winning names and handing them to presenters immediately before they walk on stage, have lost their highly sought-after roles as balloting co-leaders after mistakenly handing the wrong envelope to presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.
Beatty and Dunaway then wrongly announced La La Land as winner of the Best Picture award and the cast and crew were mid-way through their third acceptance speech before Cullinan and Ruiz took to the stage to rectify their error, dramatically revealing Moonlight as the rightful winner of the award.
The blunder has served a reputational blow to PwC, which has overseen the Oscars balloting process for 83 years, and was recently voted one of the most powerful global brands.
The Academy is now reviewing the long-standing relationship and the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Cheryl Boone Isaacs told the Associated Press that it will not be inviting Cullinan and Ruiz to attend the awards ceremony or oversee the balloting process again.
Boone Isaacs accused Cullinan of being distracted after photos emerged of the PwC partner using his phone in between the presentation of the best actress and best picture awards.
“They have one job to do. One job to do!” she told the AP, adding, “obviously there was a distraction.”
PwC issued an apology for the mix-up shortly after the ceremony and later confirmed Cullinan was responsible. The firm also responded to criticism over Cullinan and Ruiz’s delayed response to the fiasco.
Apologising to the cast and crew of Moonlight and La La Land, along with Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway and Oscar viewers for the error, PwC originally said in a statement, "The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, this was immediately corrected.
"We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred.”
The Big Four firm then issued a follow-up statement adding, “PwC takes full responsibility for the series of mistakes and breaches of protocols during last night’s Oscars.
"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 admitted, “Once the error occurred, protocols for correcting it were not followed through quickly enough by Mr Cullinan or his partner.”
The statement continued, “We are deeply sorry for the disappointment suffered by the cast and crew of La La Land and Moonlight, We sincerely apologise to Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Jimmy Kimmel, ABC, and the Academy, none of whom was at fault for last night’s errors. We wish to extend our deepest gratitude to each of them for the graciousness they displayed during such a difficult moment.
“For the past 83 years, the Academy has entrusted PwC with the integrity of the awards process during the ceremony, and last night we failed the Academy.”
The Academy also issued a statement on Monday saying, “We deeply regret the mistakes that were made during the presentation of the Best Picture category during last night’s Oscar ceremony. We apologise to the entire cast and crew of La La Land and Moonlight whose experience was profoundly altered by this error.
“For the last 83 years, the Academy has entrusted PwC to handle the critical tabulation process, including the accurate delivery of results.
"PwC has taken full responsibility for the breaches of established protocols that took place during the ceremony. We have spent last night and today investigating the circumstances, and will determine what actions are appropriate going forward.
"We are unwaveringly committed to upholding the integrity of the Oscars and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.”
Cullinan is a partner at PwC and chairman of the firm’s US board as well as a member of the firm’s global board. He is also the managing partner for PwC’s Southern California practice. He has more than 30 years' experience at PwC and has been a part of the leadership balloting team since 2014.
Ruiz, who spent more than 10 years working behind the scenes as part of the Oscars balloting team, joined Cullinan as co-leader in 2015. Ruiz has been with PwC for 19 years and is a tax partner at the firm.
A spokesperson for PwC confirmed that Cullinan and Ruiz remain employees of the firm.