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  1. Michael Chen
  1. Department of Neurological Surgery, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Michael Chen, Department of Neurological Sciences, Rush University Medical Center, 1725 West Harrison Street, Suite 1121, Chicago 60612, Illinois, USA; Michael_Chen{at}

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Along with 33 million television viewers, I was unusually captivated by the twisted ending of the 89th Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Awards Show in February 2017. After Faye Dunaway announced that La La Land, a film about young California dreamers, won for best picture, the crowd erupted in applause and the team strode onto the stage. Several acceptance speeches were made with the camera zooming around showing the reactions of friends and family. After nearly 3 min, the stage manager suddenly jumped onstage to relay that in fact Moonlight, another film, had won. This mistake led to a cruel sense of disbelief and confusion among the La La Land and Moonlight teams, and embarrassment to the Oscars Academy and the accounting firm responsible for managing the names of the winners.

The explanation for this fiasco was surprisingly easy to sort out. Brian Cullinan, a managing partner at Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP, mistakenly handed presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway an envelope containing the name of best actress winner, Emma Stone, instead of the envelope with best picture winner, Moonlight. Just minutes before this mistake, Mr Cullinan posted a photo and post on Twitter, ‘Best actress Emma Stone backstage! #PWC!’ at 9:05 pm Pacific time. About 3 min later, Mr Beatty and Ms Dunaway walked on stage to announce the evening’s top prize with the incorrect envelope. That tweet has since been deleted. Mr Cullinan’s current Twitter page still shows multiple tweets chronicling his trip …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.