Presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were handed an envelope by PwC partners Martha L Ruiz and Brian Cullinan containing what they believed to be the name of the Best Picture winner – the most anticipated award of the night.
However, after announcing La La Land as the winner and inviting the cast up on stage to accept the award, Beatty and Dunaway were informed that an error had been made and that Moonlight had actually earned the top prize.
Beatty interrupted acceptance speeches and showed the correct card to the camera and La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz announced, “There’s been a mistake. Moonlight, you guys own best picture,” before the gongs were taken from the La La Land cast and handed over to the rightful winners
Naturally, viewers and organisers were eager to find out how the error occurred: as the Oscars balloting co-leaders, Ruiz and Cullinan are tasked with guarding the envelopes containing the winning names and handing them to presenters immediately before they take to the stage.
PwC has overseen the Oscars balloting process for 83 years, and was recently voted one of the most powerful global brands.
The firm has been forced to issue an apology for the mix-up and their 83-year relationship with the Academy is now likely to be under threat.
“We sincerely apologise to Moonlight, La La Land, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture,” the firm 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. We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation."
Speaking in a promotional video ahead of the awards, Cullinan said, “The reason we were even first asked to take on this role was because of the reputation PwC has in the marketplace for being a firm of integrity, of accuracy and confidentiality and all of those things that are really key to the role we have with the Academy and counting these ballots.”
He added, “It’s really symbolic of how we are thought of beyond this role and how our clients think of us, and I think it is something we take very seriously and take a lot of pride in."
Cullinan added that he and Ruiz are the only two people in the world who know the identity of the Oscar winners before the ceremony.
“There are 24 categories and we have the winners in sealed envelopes that we hold and maintain throughout the evening and hand those to the presenters just before they walk out on stage.”
Ruiz said it was “an honour and a privilege to have been asked to be one of the few partners to represent the firm".
“It’s a tradition in Hollywood that not many get to be a part of and certainly not an accountant.”
Ruiz added that PwC values the relationship it has with the Academy, saying, “We see that they entrust us to ensure the confidentiality and the integrity of the overall balloting process.”