It was the ultimate “you had one job!” moment when PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant Brian Cullinan handed Academy Award presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway the wrong envelope before the actors headed onstage to present Best Picture. Reading aloud from what was actually the Best Actress card, the duo announced that La La Land had won the biggest award of the evening. Acceptance speeches were well underway by the time producers rushed onstage with the correct envelope to announce that (plot twist!) Moonlight was the actual winner.
Pandemonium ensued and Oscar aficionados will never forget where we were the night #Envelopegate unfolded on live television. (I look forward to telling my grandchildren about it.) It was the biggest gaffe in Oscar history, so it’s no surprise that the PwC accountants have been fired by the Academy and will never work the show again. Don’t worry, they’re not unemployed — a spokesperson for PwC confirmed that both Cullinan and Martha Ruiz will remain partners at the firm. But 2017 definitely marked the last time they got to don their black tie attire and walk the red carpet with those locked suitcases.
Minutes before handing Beatty the wrong envelope, Cullinan tweeted a photo of Best Actress winner Emma Stone backstage. He’d been told not to use social media during the ceremony — presumably because it could lead to a terrible error like, for example, handing a presenter the wrong envelope. Ruiz is also shouldering the blame because she failed to follow protocol that would have rectified the error within seconds. As Cullinan and Ruiz wrung their hands in the wings for over two minutes, the La La Land producers became the first people ever to deliver a Best Picture acceptance speech for an award they hadn’t won.
The Academy’s future with PwC remains unclear, but the firm is in the midst of major damage control. The 54 members of the Academy’s board of governors will convene on March 28, possibly to make a decision regarding whether or not they’ll continue to work with PwC.
If you think you’re having a tough week at the office, just try to imagine how many awkward questions Cullinan and Ruiz are undoubtedly fielding from their colleagues right now.