At last, a new Oscars cliche: ‘I’d like to blame all the little people …’’ | Hadley Freeman

Hadley Freeman
Martha Ruiz and Brian Cullinan on stage with Warren Beatty, who was apparently incapable of simply saying that he’d been given the wrong envelope when he knew he had. Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

And the award for best hasty salvaging of reputations goes to … Hollywood and the Oscars! Ooh, but have we opened the right envelope? Hahaha! Well, of course we have, given that Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz, the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) accountants responsible for last Sunday’s snafu, have been not so much thrown under a bus as chucked off a plane, ripped apart by a freight train and crushed under a Hummer, and therefore can’t screw this one up. So congratulations to celebrities and the Academy Awards for this prize!

Last Sunday, as I’m sure we all remember, was WrongEnvelopeGate/this generation’s Kennedy assassination/the most important cultural event that ever happened – in other words, the wrong winner was read out at the Oscars. Emma Stone, who had won the best actress Oscar moments before, declared this mix-up “one of the most horrible moments of my life”, leading one to wonder what were the others – room service toast that was slightly too burnt? A faintly disappointing VIP lounge?

While the losers (La La Land) and winners (Moonlight) have apparently moved on from this upset, it seems increasingly clear the Academy Awards will never recover from this three minutes of pain. A week on, stories about HOW?, CRUEL GOD, HOW? the mix-up happened are still being churned out in the press, and I surely speak for the world when I say the prospect of the endless rib-ticklers we’ll get at next year’s Oscars about wrong envelopes makes me want to move to Siberia and stick icicles into my brain.

We could query the behaviour of quite a few people that night: Warren Beatty, who was apparently incapable of simply saying that he’d been given the wrong envelope when he knew he had; La La Land’s producer, Fred Berger, who gave a thankyou speech even though he knew he’d lost; Beatty (again) for seizing the mic after the error was revealed and insistently telling the world that none of this was his fault, thereby cutting into the Moonlight team’s time even further.

But this is Hollywood, dammit! And if there is one thing this town knows how to do it is protect its own. And so screen grabs from backstage on the night were released and pored over by the media like the 21st century Zapruder film. Investigations were demanded with greater urgency than, say, investigations into President Trump’s Russian connections, and before the sun had set on Monday Cullinan and, soon after, Ruiz had been duly named as the execs to blame.

Well, the buck had to stop somewhere. Whether that buck-stopping really needed two individuals’ names and photos to be released to the world’s media, given that they are private citizens who flubbed up at an awards ceremony and not, say, treason-committing politicians, is a debatable issue.

Well, I say it’s debatable, but it isn’t at all, apparently. Because this week has been open season on the two of them, with humiliating details about their professional and personal failings being eagerly leaked to the world’s obliging media. Photos of Cullinan tweeting backstage were sneered at by people on Twitter, apparently unaware of the concept of irony. Cullinan, Variety solemnly reported on Thursday, “enjoyed the spotlight”. The trade paper went on to justify this claim by suggesting he had “been angling for a spot on stage” during the ceremony. In fact, it is mentioned in the fifth paragraph that he quite possibly wanted no such thing – according to PwC, he was trying to ensure that his firm wouldn’t be mocked on stage again as it had been the year before, when Chris Rock pretended three Asian children were PwC accountants, a low point in the Oscar annals which, after protests, eventually wrung a classic non-apology apology from the academy.

Ruiz and Cullinan “just didn’t have the disposition” for the Oscars, Gary Natoli, the event’s stage manager, claimed in an extensive interview in which he repeatedly stressed the event’s total innocence and Ruiz and Cullinan’s total culpability. “It was very upsetting to us. It still is. You work really hard on a show, and then something like that happens. You feel bad about it, even though it’s not your responsibility,” Natoli said.

And for sure, the pain is real. Though not perhaps as real as the pain of Ruiz and Cullinan, who now have to have security in their homes because their addresses were widely disseminated and they and their families have received death threats, because that is how the world works now when individuals are singled out in the media and most people have access to the internet.

This, incidentally, is mentioned just as an aside at the bottom of articles sneering at Cullinan and Ruiz, because what really matters is that for two minutes people thought the wrong movie won, not that some poor muppets are currently living in fear. After all, God forbid Warren Beatty should feel awkward for even a second.

Leaving aside the very strong urge to shout, “FOR GOD’S SAKE, GET A GRIP – IT WAS A MIX-UP AT AN AWARDS CEREMONY”, there is no doubt that Cullinan and Ruiz had one job, and they fumbled it. But if anyone thinks this means they now deserve to be humiliated and traduced on a global scale, well, they care about the sanctity of the Oscars a lot more than I do, and I’ve been four times.

The Academy found the mix-up humiliating; the truth is, it’s been the reaction of all the key players afterwards – the Academy, the celebrities, the media – that has been embarrassing. To err is human, to kick people in the face to salvage the egos of the beautiful folk – well, that’s Hollywood.

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