Moonlight has won the best picture Oscar in a chaotic awards ceremony climax which mistakenly awarded the top honour to La La Land, a fiasco which stunned Hollywood and viewers around the world.
Faye Dunaway named La La Land as the year’s best picture at the end of Sunday night’s ABC broadcast only to be corrected a few minutes later as the musical’s makers celebrated on stage, a tableaux likely to be immortalised in Hollywood annals.
Audible gasps were heard in the Dolby theatre when La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz declared the real winner was Moonlight, a coming-of-age drama revered by critics.
A close-up of the red envelope suggested Dunaway and Warren Beatty had an envelope containing a previous award for best actress – Emma Stone of La La Land – prompting Beatty to hesitate before handing over to Dunaway, who named La La Land as best picture winner.
Two minutes later Horowitz, as celebrations on stage turned into commotion, bewildered millions by saying a mistake had been made and that it was not a joke. He held up a card showing Moonlight was the winner.
The host Jimmy Kimmel tried to make light of the extraordinary bungle: “I knew I would screw this show up. I really did.”
Price Waterhouse Coopers, the accounting firm that tallies Oscar votes, took responsibility and issued an apology. It said: “We sincerely apologize to Moonlight, La La Land, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and the Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for best picture. The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred. We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation.”
Speaking backstage minutes later, Moonlight’s director Barry Jenkins said the error had left him speechless. “I’d never seen that happen before. It made a special feeling more special but not in the way I expected. The last 20 minutes of my life have been insane … beyond life changing.”
He said he did not know how the error occurred. “Things just happen. The folks from La La Land were so gracious. I can’t imagine being in their position.”
Jenkins said he hoped the film, which tells the story of a gay African American boy growing up in poverty in Miami, would open doors for members of the LGBT community.
He shrugged off the award bungle. “It’s unfortunate the way things happened … but hot damn, we won best picture.”
The debacle capped an eventful night which doubled up as a politically charged Hollywood rally against Donald Trump, with the host, Jimmy Kimmel, and multiple presenters and winners making coded and not-so coded denunciations of the White House.
La La Land appeared on track for coronation, winning six Oscars, including best actress for Emma Stone and best director for Damien Chazelle, 32, the youngest person to receive the honour.
Arrival, Moonlight, Fences and Hacksaw Ridge scooped acting and technical awards, denying La La Land, which had 14 nominations, a record-setting haul.
Casey Affleck won best actor for his portrayal of a grieving handyman in Manchester by the Sea, seeing off Denzel Washington, who had been tipped for a third Oscar for Fences. Emma Stone won best actress for La La Land.
Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar, taking best supporting actor for Moonlight. Viola Davis won best supporting actress for Fences – it was the first time African Americans simultaneously won in both categories.
Mel Gibson, not so long ago an industry pariah for drunken outbursts, made a comeback with Hacksaw Ridge, a bloodsoaked second world war drama that earned two Oscars, including one for the sound mixer, Kevin O’Connell, his first win after 21 nominations.
The academy also gave some love to Arrival, a critically acclaimed drama about communicating with aliens, in the form of the best sound editing Oscar.
However, Hidden Figures, about black women working at Nasa’s space programme, Hell or High Water, about bank robbers in Texas, and Lion, a true-life story about an Indian boy separated from his family, came away empty-handed.
In contrast to La La Land’s romantic score, which suffused the ceremony, speaker after speaker took swipes at Trump’s crackdown on refugees and immigrants, making it one of the most politically tinged Oscars in memory.
The president has paid close attention to previous Oscars but indicated he would be too busy hosting governors in Washington to tune into this one.
Kimmel opened proceedings with a plea for unity, urging Americans to reach out across the political divide, before making multiple jokes at the president’s expense. “I want to say thank you to President Trump. I mean, remember this time last year when it seemed that the Oscars were racist?” said Kimmel, referring to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy.
He said the broadcast was being shown in more than 225 countries “that now hate us”, and gave the audience a chance to vent anti-Trump sentiment with a tribute to Meryl Streep, a totem of Hollywood hostility to the White House. Kimmel also trolled the president on Twitter with the hashtag #Merylsayshi.
Thinly veiled criticism of Trump’s policies peppered the night.
“I come from Italy. This is for all the immigrants,” said Alessandro Bertolazzi, who won for makeup for Suicide Squad. “Art has no borders,” said academy president Cheryl Boone-Isaacs.
“As a Mexican, as a Latin American, as a migrant worker – as a human being – I’m against any form of wall that wants to separate us,” said Gael Garcia-Bernal.
Rich Howard, co-director of Disney’s Zootopia, said the animated film espoused “tolerance being more powerful than fear of the other”. Disney’s chief, Bob Iger, sits on Trump’s policy forum.
Several nominees, including Ruth Negga and Lin Manuel-Miranda, sported blue ribbons symbolising the American Civil Liberties Union, which has challenged several presidential executive orders.
The Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who boycotted the event in protest at Trump’s travel bans, won best foreign language film for The Salesman in what was widely seen as a rebuke to the White House. In a statement, he called the ban “inhumane”, earning prolonged applause.
Hours earlier, in a videolink from Tehran, he urged 10,000 people gathered for a screening of his film in London’s Trafalgar Square to “stand up to fascism, be victorious in the face of extremism”.
The White Helmets, about a Syrian civil defence group, won best documentary short, arguably another poke at Trump, since its cinematographer, Khaled Khateeb, was denied entry to the US. The award also marked Netflix’s first Oscar.
OJ: Made in America won best documentary. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them won for best costume design – the Harry Potter franchise’s first Oscar win.
Kimmel provoked ire on social media when he joked about the ethnic names of some tourists who were led into the ceremony from their tour bus, apparently thinking they were entering Madame Tussaud’s wax museum.