The Academy Awards Best Picture Debacle

Tue Feb 28, 2017 by on Florida Law News

PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Academy, and the age-old Law School Exam question…Who is liable to whom and for what?

If you have not already heard about the big mishap at Sunday night’s Academy Awards, let me give you a quick synopsis. (1) Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway (Bonnie and Clyde) are on stage to announce the highly contested winner of the Best Picture, (2) Warren Beatty opens the envelope and hesitates to read the winner’s name out loud, (3) Warren Beatty shows the envelope to Dunaway who proceeds to say “come on” and declares La La Land as the winner, (4) as the La La Land team goes up on stage and accepts the honors, producers Fred Berger and Jordan Horowitz soon realize that La La Land has not won, and finally (5) Horowitz announces into the microphone that “there’s a mistake…Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture.”

Many of you may be reading this thinking “you cannot make this stuff up!” I personally watched this and was instantly reminded of the people who can make this stuff up—law school professors. Everything about last nights events made me ask myself the age old question found at the bottom of many law school exams…who is liable to whom and for what?

Who is Liable?2017 Oscar Debacle

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has already publicly taken accountability for the mistake, so there is no denying that in our law school scenario they would most certainly be at fault.  Their negligent handling of the highly secured award cards was unacceptable.  According to the Wall Street Journal, two cards are created for each award winner.  PwC counts the votes and safeguards the winner’s cards which are then personally delivered to the announcers.  One of the sets that should have been discarded after Emma Stone accepted her award for best-actress was negligently given to Beatty.  It was clear that the front of the red envelope that was opened on stage read the words “Actress in a leading role” and all that had to be done by PwC is to double check the card before they gave it to Beatty.

Potential liability for The Academy could also occur since they of course have employed PwC to conduct the balloting process for the past 83 years.  The Academy invests a lot of money to be able to run a smooth show and last night’s award show did not end on a good note.  The Academy should have made sure that PwC was well organized and should have intervened as soon as the wrong victor was named and most definitely before the acceptance speeches occurred.

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway could also be potentially liable for announcing the wrong winner.  It was clear that Beatty had a hunch something was wrong when he read the purported winner out loud.  All he had to do to confirm his hunch was read the outside of the envelope where he would have clearly seen the mistake that he was reading from the wrong envelope. Then again, Beatty and Dunaway may say they were set up to look like fools.

The Academy, PwC and the announcers would be liable to Moonlight because they all played a part in this mishap.  Moonlight never got to have their day in the sun as the winners of Best Picture and that moment is something they will never get back.  Yes, they still have the Oscar and are named the true winners of the Best Picture award but that moment is now lost forever.  Further, La La Land stole their thunder due to the inadvertent mix up.

Let this be a lesson for all award shows to take more precautions when announcing a winner and save a handful of people from public embarrassment.  On the bright side for Beatty and Dunaway, at least they can call Steve Harvey to help them get through this.
From the trenches,


Roy Oppenheim


Tags: Oscars, PWC

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