The infamous envelope flub. (Photo: Chris Pizzello, Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation behind the 2017 Academy Awards’ wild ending. As the Oscars’ accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers confirmed, their backstage handler Brian Cullinan handed the wrong envelope to presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, prompting them to erroneously award La La Land the best picture prize on Sunday, instead of Moonlight.
But not everyone was convinced by PricewaterhouseCoopers’ explanation. The Internet immediately cried sabotage, pointing fingers at everyone from Emma Stone and Matt Damon to President Trump and Russian hackers. Here’s a selection of the characters that, according to online conspiracy theories, planted the wrong envelope in Beatty and Dunaway’s hands.
1. Leonardo DiCaprio
Immediately after the flub aired on live TV, eagle-eyed viewers pointed out — and PricewaterhouseCoopers later confirmed — that Beatty and Dunaway brought the best actress envelope onstage, instead of best picture.
Many people pointed out that, since Leonardo DiCaprio presented Emma Stone with the best picture trophy, he may have been to blame, leaving the best actress envelope backstage for Beatty to mistakenly pick up. Was it Leo’s personal revenge against the Academy for making him wait until 2016 for his Oscars win?
PricewaterhouseCoopers debunked this theory after the show.
“Cullinan and [his backstage partner Maria Ruiz] hand each envelope directly to the presenter in each category,” Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman and senior partner of PwC, told USA TODAY. “We are positioned on either side of the stage, so we can hand envelopes from stage right or stage left.”
2. Emma Stone
Other conspiracy theorists claimed Emma Stone was the culprit who left the envelope backstage, either by accident or in a sinister plot to confuse the presenters and ensure a La La Land win.
Though as Stone told reporters in the press room after her win, “I was actually holding my best actress card the whole time. So I’m not sure what happened, but I wanted to talk to you guys first.”
3. Warren Beatty
Did bad blood between Beatty and Dunaway culminate in the flub? According to TMZ‘s theory, the two co-presenters squabbled before the show about who would read the final card, “but eventually Warren backed off and Faye got her way.” When they took the stage, Dunaway was allegedly suspicious that Beatty would steal her moment and announce the winner, so when she noticed her co-presenter hesitating at the card, she quickly read La La Land.
However, Beatty debunked this theory backstage, telling reporters that, “as planned, I gave it to Faye.”
4. Ben Affleck
The most fantastical conspiracy comes from the Ringer, which jokingly postulates that the whole mishap was, circuitously, Ben Affleck’s fault. According to the article’s logic, Affleck’s 2016 movie The Accountant portrayed the James Bond of bookkeepers: intriguing, brilliant and wildly unethical. The Academy wasn’t impressed with the movie, shutting it out of the nominations. In retaliation, a mysterious contingent of CPAs banded together to sabotage the awards, ganging up to derail the Oscars and hurt PwC’s business in the process.
5. The envelope designers
According to The Wrap, the Oscars changed the look of the envelopes this year, swapping the gold cards with white labels that had been used in previous ceremonies with red cards printed with gold letters.
As a result, the article suggests, the design change made the envelopes harder to read, making it easier for Cullinan or Beatty to accidentally send the wrong card onstage.
Don’t these envelopes from 2016 look easier to read? (Photo: ROBYN BECK, AFP/Getty Images)
A quick look at photos of the new envelopes, however, make the writing seem perfectly legible.
6. The Academy
The Oscars’ TV ratings have been falling for years, and 2017’s show was no exception. 32.9 million viewers watched the broadcast Sunday, just barely beating 2008’s record-low audience of 32 million. Some Twitter users thought that the Academy planted the mistaken envelope to boost ratings.
Even in the highly unlikely scenario that the Oscars would sabotage their own show for ratings gains, they probably should’ve engineered a flub during Justin Timberlake’s opening number or Jimmy Kimmel’s first monologue, not the final moments of a four-hour ceremony when it’s already too late to help its viewership.
7. President Trump
Trump didn’t even watch the Oscars Sunday night, let alone influence the envelope handoff. But in a next-morning interview with Breitbart, he claimed partial credit for the flub, saying the Oscars were too focused on bashing him to announce the winner correctly.
“I think they were focused so hard on politics that they didn’t get the act together at the end,” he said. “It was a little sad. It took away from the glamour of the Oscars. It didn’t feel like a very glamorous evening. I’ve been to the Oscars. There was something very special missing, and then to end that way was sad.”
8. The Russians
According to George Takei and many other Twitter users, Russian hackers meddled with PwC’s affairs and rigged the awards.
La La Land‘s production company Summit Entertainment may have a distribution deal with Russian filmmakers Central Partnership, but there’s still zero evidence to support this Internet theory.
9. Brian Cullinan’s Twitter account
While Brian Cullinan, the PwC rep who handed Beatty and Dunaway the wrong envelope, likely didn’t mess up the results on purpose, Internet sleuths quickly found that Cullinan was tweeting backstage from the awards. His tweets, which he deleted after the show, including a picture of Stone right after she won, minutes before Beatty and Dunaway took the stage.
Was Cullinan too distracted by his phone to keep his envelopes straight? Answers may come soon from the Academy, which announced in a statement that their representatives spent Sunday night and Monday “investigating the circumstances and will determine what actions are appropriate going forward.”
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