The 89th Academy Awards was thrown into turmoil at the moment of its grand finale, with the cast, crew and producers of La La Land celebrating on stage but seconds later discovering there was a mix-up with the best picture announcement.
Moonlight, following the life struggles of a boy raised by a crack addict mother, won the top Oscar of the night.
The problem was Moonlight’s director Barry Jenkins and his cast and producers were still sitting in their seats in Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre watching their jubilant La La Land rivals.
Warren Beatty, who announced the award with Faye Dunaway, said they were tripped up by what was in the envelope.
“I want to tell you what happened and it said, ‘Emma Stone La La Land’,” Beatty told the stunned audience.
La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz broke the news on stage when he showed the card with “Moonlight” written on it.
The La La Land group retreated and the Moonlight team took their place on stage.
“The last 20 minutes of my life was insane,” Moonlight director Barry Jenkins told reporters backstage.
La La Land’s Stone, who won best actress earlier in the night, threw more fire on the controversy when she challenged Beatty’s explanation.
Stone won the best actress Oscar for La La Land earlier and said she still had the envelope that contained her name.
“I had that card so I’m not sure what happened,” Stone told reporters.
Jenkins said Beatty took him aside after the mix-up and showed him what was in the envelope
“The card said ‘best picture Moonlight’, but there were two cards,” Jenkins, adding more confusion to the incident, said.
When asked what was on the second card Jenkins declined to say and told reporters, “We’re moving on”.
The ceremony, which included two wins for Mel Gibson’s Australian-made Hacksaw Ridge, already had its controversies, with US President Donald Trump regularly the brunt of jokes.
Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, winning the the foreign language film Oscar ahead of Australia’s Tanna, stayed in Iran to protest Trump’s failed attempt to block citizens from Iran and six other mostly Muslim nations from entering the US.
A statement written by Farhadi and read at the ceremony said the seven nations had been “disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the US”.
There was also drama when Australian sound mixers Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace and their American colleague, Kevin O’Connell, won the Oscar for Hacksaw Ridge.
O’Connell held the unfortunate record of having the most Oscar nominations of any person without winning, with his 20 nods stretching back to Terms of Endearment in 1984 and including blockbusters Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Twister, Crimson Tide and Spider-Man.
It was the complex war scenes in Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, filmed in Sydney and country NSW, that finally broke the drought with his 21st nomination.
“I wasn’t expecting it to happen, but I feel eternally grateful that it happened specifically because of the project that it was,” O’Connell told reporters backstage.
Wright, Mackenzie and Grace stood back and let O’Connell give his long-awaited speech on stage.
“It’s an incredible experience to represent the Australian crew and all of the effort that was done by everybody, but it is extra special to be standing here with Kevin,” Wright said.
Hacksaw Ridge’s Kiwi director John Gilbert won the editing award.
Australia had 14 nominations, but it was just the three sound mixers who were victorious.
Fences’ Viola Davis, as expected, won the supporting actress Oscar ahead of Lion’s Nicole Kidman.
Gibson was up for directing, but La La Land’s Damien Chazelle was the winner and Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) won the best actor Oscar ahead of Fences’ Denzel Washington.
Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali took the supporting actor trophy.
La La Land won the most awards with six, ahead of Moonlight’s three, and Hacksaw Ridge and Manchester by the Sea with two each.
Lion, shot in India and Tasmania, had six nominations but failed to pick up a win.