I Blame Faye Dunaway

An unpopular view from the couch

Yesterday marked the first time in three years that I didn’t attend the Oscars. I had been looking forward to viewing the event as it was intended to be viewed: in my own living room, with my ass firmly planted on the couch. I guess I got a little too comfortable, because as Sarah Bareilles performed “Both Sides Now” with her beautiful soothing voice during the “In Memoriam” segment, I dozed off.

I suppose I wasn’t too worried I’d miss anything. For all the hype and anticipation, the Oscars are usually pretty dull affairs. The stars show up looking pretty, but no longer take fashion risks. Some of them give provocative speeches; most of them don’t. Everything unfolds according to a pretty strict and well-calibrated production schedule that would make Rolex — one of the event’s sponsors — proud.

So you can imagine my shock and surprise when I woke up and read about the Best Picture debacle, in which the night’s biggest award was erroneously given to “La La Land,” and then, mid-acceptance speech, to its rightful owner, “Moonlight.” Following a year when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the election; a Super Bowl in which the Atlanta Falcons were defeated by the New England Patriots after they had racked up a 28–3 lead; and a Grammy Awards where Adele’s “25” beat Beyoncé’s superior “Lemonade” for Album of the Year; the Best Picture screw-up kind of made sense, in its own poetically demented way.

I’ve been watching instant replays all morning in utter disbelief. And, I realize that this may be an unpopular opinion, but I am going to go ahead and say it: I blame Faye Dunaway.

To be sure, PricewaterhouseCoopers, the firm that has overseen the Oscars voting process for the past 83 years, is responsible for handing the presenters the wrong envelope — a duplicate copy of the “Best Actress” card that had previously been given to Emma Stone for her performance in “La La Land.” And there is no doubt that some poor stagehand’s head is going to roll over this.

But if you really think about it, the presenters are the last line of defense in preventing the type of disaster that happened last night. These folks are typically Oscar-winners themselves, with brilliant extemporaneous speaking skills, otherworldly poise and grace under pressure. Can’t we expect them to do more than just read the words printed on a card? Is thinking critically in the moment too much to ask?

Warren Beatty was clearly uncomfortable reading the card — for obvious reasons, because it said “Best Actress: Emma Stone, ‘La La Land.’” Watching the video, you can see how he first examined the envelope to see if there was another card in there, but seeing nothing, he began hesitatingly to present the award anyway. He then stopped himself again and handed the card to Ms. Dunaway, as if to say “WTF is going on?”

And, this is purely speculation based on watching the video a million times, but I think that Clyde was hoping that Bonnie would back him up and say, “Wait a minute — something is weird here.” Instead, Ms. Dunaway took the envelope, dismissed Mr. Beatty as foolish, muttering “you’re impossible” with that signature wry smile of hers, and triumphantly announced “La La Land” as the winner. It was clear that she didn’t read the card carefully, because if she had, she would have also noticed that something was amiss.

Ms. Dunaway seemed to be feeling some shame about the whole thing, because when my former colleagues from the Wall Street Journal caught up with her at the Governor’s Ball after the event and asked her whether the card she read had said “Best Actress” on it, she told them, “I’m not going to discuss that” and went back to eating her dinner. Who knows. Maybe she’s in a shame spiral. Or perhaps she thinks Warren Beatty, in handing her the envelope, threw her under the bus. Maybe — and this is the most likely option — she really doesn’t give a fuck.

But back to that “In Memoriam” segment that put me to sleep: it included a picture of someone who was alive! Jan Chapman, an Australian film producer, must have been surprised to see her own face in the montage, next to the name Janet Patterson, an Australian costume designer. It’s a mixup that would have delighted the comedian Garry Shandling, if he were around to see it. Unfortunately the late Mr. Shandling, who had appeared in more than a dozen films over the course of his life, was “snubbed” from the segment.

In conclusion, fact checking matters. Let’s do better, Hollywood!