Moonlight wins best picture over La La Land in stunning Oscars finish

In a surreal moment destined for Oscar history, the best picture winner was mistakenly announced at the Academy Awards, with La La Land seemingly awarded the honour before Moonlight was ultimately confirmed as the real choice.

Moonlight, Viola Davis score Oscar wins a year after diversity controversy

Huge Oscar mix-up: wrong best picture announced

6 years ago
Duration 2:49
Presenters Beatty and Dunaway given incorrect envelope by mistake

In a surreal moment destined for Oscar history, the best picture winner was mistakenly announced at the Academy Awards, with La La Land seemingly awarded the honour before Moonlight was ultimately confirmed as the real choice.

In an unprecedented mix-up, veteran actors Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced La La Land as the winner, but midway through the acceptance speech, La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz sparked momentary chaos and stunned disbelief when he revealed it was really coming-of-age drama Moonlight that took the prize.

Beatty and host Jimmy Kimmel returned to the stage to confirm and try to explain. Beatty, who had paused during the revelation, said the envelope had contained the name of best actress winner Emma Stone from La La Land. Dunaway, who thought Beatty was taking too long, read out the name of the film. 

Director Barry Jenkins and the cast and crew of Moonlight accept the Best Picture award onstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on Sunday. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The accounting firm PwC, formerly known as PricewaterhouseCoopers, has handled Oscar balloting for decades. PwC sent out a statement apologizing for the error, saying the presenters were "given the wrong category envelope," while promising an investigation.

"We appreciate the grace with which the nominees and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation," the statement read.

Moonlight director Barry Jenkins and his team ascended to the stage looking startled after Horowitz's revelation.   

"Even in my dreams this cannot be true," Jenkins said.

The acclaimed three-act tale of a poor, young black man struggling with his identity and sexuality, also won for best adapted screenplay and best supporting actor Mahershala Ali.

Ali landed the first Oscar of the night for his widely praised turn as a drug dealer-turned-father figure to the film's central character and earned a standing ovation from the Los Angeles crowd. 

In his speech, he paid tribute to the teachers who told him: it's not about you. It's about these characters. You are a servant. You're in service to these characters and these stories."

Best Actress winner Emma Stone is congratulated by Leonardo DiCaprio as she accepts her award for La La Land. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

La La Land, the contemporary romance and ode to Hollywood musicals, had dominated the Academy Awards up to the envelope miscue.

Stone picked up best actress for her performance in the musical as an aspiring starlet, while Damien Chazelle, at 32, became the youngest ever to win for best director. The film also nabbed Academy Awards for cinematography, production, score and the song City of Stars for a total of six Oscars among its record-tying 14 nominations.

Casey Affleck prevailed in the best actor category for his searing turn as a grief-filled man in Manchester By the Sea, which also won for director Kenneth Lonergan's original screenplay.

Lonergan, also a playright known for undercutting dramatic moments with humour, joked to reporters in the press room: "It turned out that we actually won best picture."

Examining black lives 

The evening veered between lighthearted bits and jokes led by Kimmel and passionate arguments for inclusiveness and unity by winners and presenters.

Black stories came to the forefront early on in the show. In addition to Moonlight's Ali, Viola Davis earned the best supporting actress trophy for her role as a put-upon wife in Fences, reprising her Tony-winning role opposite Denzel Washington in his adaptation of the August Wilson play.

Viola Davis delivers an emotional speech on stage after she won the award for Best Supporting Actress in Fences at the 89th Oscars on Sunday in Hollywood. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

"I become an artist and thank God I did because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life. Here's to August Wilson, who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people," said Davis, who has previously won Emmy and Tony Awards.

Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow won best documentary feature for their lengthy film O.J.: Made in America, examining the O.J. Simpson trial against the backdrop of race relations between blacks and the Los Angeles police. 

Edelman dedicated the award to the victims of the film's famous crime — Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman — and added: "This is also for other victims, victims of police violence, police brutality...This is their story, as it is Ron and Nicole's."

Protest in the spotlight 

With a former reality TV star who delights in creating controversy in the Oval Office, politics has seeped into all aspects of American life and also had a place at the Oscars. Speeches specifically supporting unity and tolerance — most indirectly referencing U.S. President Donald Trump — were peppered throughout the ceremony.

One of the three directors of best animated film winner Zootopia said the Disney hit was about "tolerance being more powerful than fear of the other," while Alessandro Bertolazzi, one of the Suicide Squad trio who won for best makeup, declared: "I am an immigrant... this is for the immigrants!" 

Iranian-American astronaut Anousheh Ansari, left, and former NASA scientist Firouz Naderi accept the best foreign language film Oscar for The Salesman on behalf of director Asghar Farhadi. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

"As a Mexican, as a Latin American, as a migrant worker, as a human being I'm against any form of wall that wants to separate us," actor Gael Garcia Bernal noted between presenting awards. 

When Iran's The Salesman won for best foreign language film, Iranian astronaut Anousheh Ansari served as a representative for director Asghar Farhadi, who decided to boycott the ceremony because of Trump's travel ban. 

"My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S.," Ansari read from Farhadi's statement. 

"Tonight is proof," noted Academy of Motions Pictures President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, "that art has no borders, no single language and does not belong to a single faith." 

Canadian winners

Though Quebec filmmaker Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi hit Arrival was a top nominee, its lone trophy came for sound editing, with Sylvain Bellemare giving a shout out to to his hometown of Montreal upon winning. 

Another Canadian bringing Oscar home is Alan Barillaro of Niagara Falls, Ont., who paid tribute to his "three little pipers" back home when his adorable Pixar film Piper won best animated short.

Jennifer Aniston introduced the In Memoriam tribute, growing teary-eyed as she specifically mentioned popular actor Bill Paxton, who died suddenly this weekend. Singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles followed with a subdued performance of Joni Mitchell' s Both Sides Now as images of Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher John Hurt, Prince, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Gene Wilder, Mary Tyler Moore and many more appeared. 

Host Jimmy Kimmel took on Matt Damon, Donald Trump and the diversity problems the Academy has dealt with in the past during his monologue. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Late night's Kimmel generally toned down his typical snark for his debut as Oscar host, but still managed to take regular digs at Trump and his longtime verbal punching bag, Matt Damon. Kimmel also presided over a lengthy segment where Los Angeles tour bus visitors were led through the front row to meet the stars and periodically dropped sugary treats onto the receptive, celebrity-filled audience.

"I knew I would screw this up," Kimmel quipped after the best picture announcement fiasco.

"I promise to never come back."

Oscar winners

  • Best picture: Moonlight
  • Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea
  • Actress: Emma Stone, La La Land
  • Director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
  • Supporting actress: Viola Davis, Fences
  • Supporting actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
  • Original screenplay: Manchester By the Sea
  • Adapted screenplay: Moonlight 
  • Foreign language film: The Salesman (Iran)
  • Animated feature: Zootopia
  • Animated short: Piper
  • Live Action Short: Sing
  • Documentary short subject: The White Helmets
  • Documentary feature: O.J.: Made in America
  • Sound mixing: Hacksaw Ridge 
  • Sound editing: Arrival 
  • Film Editing: Hacksaw Ridge
  • Makeup and Hairstyling: Suicide Squad
  • Costume Design: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Production design: La La Land
  • Cinematography: La La Land
  • Original score: La La Land
  • Original song: City of Stars, La La Land
  • Visual Effects: The Jungle Book


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