Monday, February 27, 2017


As a former awards administrator for two literary societies, I continue to be fascinated by the Oscars snafu this year. There are two outstanding questions in my mind: 1) how and why was Warren Beatty handed the wrong envelope?; 2) why did it take so long for the PwC awards administrators, who have memorized all the winners precisely to prevent problems like this, to stop the train wreck? I checked the time stamps on my DVR, and it was 1 minute 50 seconds after Faye Dunaway read out "La La Land" until a production crew member collected the cards, though there'd apparently been some fuss going on behind for a previous 10 seconds or so. And it was 40 seconds after that - a full two and a half minutes after the wrong winner was announced - before the correct announcement was made: "Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture." And who said that? Jordan Horowitz, one of the La La producers, not an Academy or PwC representative. That's an unconscionable gap of time and dereliction of responsibility.

However, as the correct card was held up, proving that what Horowitz said was true, I could easily see what had confused Beatty and Dunaway: bad award card design.

The award card had the Oscars logo at the top. Below that was the name of the winning movie, and immediately below that, in the same large and bold-faced type, the names of its producers. Those are the parts the presenter was expected to read, in that order. Only at the very bottom, in very small, light-faced type, was the category, "Best Picture."

If the card Beatty had was laid out the same way, it would have said "Emma Stone / La La Land", in that order, in large and bold-faced type, and only at the bottom, in that tiny, light-faced type, would have been "Best Actress in a Leading Role."

Beatty clearly had the presence of mind to realize that something was wrong as soon as he saw the card. The next thing he did was to look in the envelope, as if speculating whether another card might be in there. Then he tried to draw out the announcement: "... and the Academy Award ... for Best Picture ..." perhaps hoping that someone would stop him or explain things to him. What he was wondering was why the card had the name of the lead actress instead of the producers. He probably didn't see the category in tiny type.

But then he handed the card to Dunaway, who thought he was clowning around and didn't realize anything was wrong. She glances at the card quickly, she doesn't parse the oddity of the personal name, she sees "La La Land" in big bold type, she knows it's a nominee, she reads it aloud. And the train crashes. As someone has pointed out, if instead of being an extra card for Best Actress, it had been for Best Makeup and read "Suicide Squad", this probably wouldn't have happened.

I'd just like to point out that when I was administrator of the Hugo Awards, our announcement cards had the category name in Big Bold letters at the top of the card, so there was no mistaking which was which.

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