Two months later, the most unbelievable thing that’s happened in pop culture this year is still Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announcing the wrong winner for Best Picture at the Oscars. (If you’re keeping track at home, no. 2 is Boss Baby making $49 million in its first weekend.)
It was absolute madness on that fateful February night as it became clear that Moonlight, and not La La Land, had won Best Picture — producers became heroes and goats, Jimmy Kimmel made some awkward jokes, and Ryan Gosling lurked in the background, hardly able to hold it together.
As for Beatty and Dunaway, the fallout from the Oscar-night gaffe couldn’t have been more disparate.
Immediately, the public piled on Beatty — perhaps because he was the first to apologize onstage. As the smoke began to clear, rationality set in, and we all asked ourselves: “But wait, wasn’t Faye Dunaway the one who actually said ‘La La Land’?” Watch the tape; clearly, Warren’s trying to tell her something’s up, and she just blasts ahead. Dunaway seemed to be at least as guilty as Beatty (as it turns out, neither of them was actually to blame), and yet she hardly got the digital flak that he did, nor was she compelled to apologize multiple times like Beatty has.
But, after a couple of months in solitude, Dunaway sat for an interview with Lester Holt of NBC Nightly News on Monday to explain her side of the story and, yes, take some responsibility. Let’s review her statement, shall we? (Watch the full interview here.)
Kind of a shaky start to what’s billed as an apology. The admission of guilt and wrongdoing are essential to any good apology, so one that begins with, “I messed up because Warren Beatty’s a goofball” is below average.
OK, now we’re getting off track and veering into some personal things that do not have anything to do with giving the highest prize in cinema to the wrong movie.
Guess what — Faye Dunaway ain’t apologizing. But we should bow down at her adeptness at shade. With these 10 words, none of which are longer than four letters, she drives a knife through the heart of PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant Brian Cullinan, the guy who mistakenly gave Dunaway and Beatty a Best Actress envelope because he was too busy taking creepshots of Emma Stone. This, again, is Dunaway shifting blame from herself, but I’m cool with it in this case because Cullinan really is patient zero of the Oscars slipup, and she just executed him so subtly and savagely.
Why didn’t I see Emma Stone’s name on top of the card? Pleas to a higher power like this are always useful in an apology. First of all, they’re dramatic — you can almost picture Dunaway in her backyard the day after the Oscars screaming, “Why God, why?!” — so employing them gives off the appearance that you really care. Additionally, they also serve to recognize the concept of fate, that one’s actions are predestined and therefore unpreventable. So, to recap, in this interview Dunaway has blamed the Oscars mix-up on Warren Beatty, Brian Cullinan, and God.
Something else to note in this section: the sentence “I was very guilty.” Aha! There’s her mea culpa moment! Not so fast. Watch the video above and listen to how Dunaway says this. She’s not saying, “I’m guilty,” she’s saying, “I felt very guilty,” which really means, “I wasn’t guilty of anything, but it seemed like I was.”
Faye Dunaway deserves a round of applause. Not because she made a good apology — it’s actually terrible, not even classifiable as one — but because she expertly evaded any and all culpability while still giving off the appearance of genuine repentance. This is just like how she let Warren Beatty fumble over an impromptu apology while elegantly receding into the background, only in interview form. Faye Dunaway is a publicity ninja.
An earlier version of this story misquoted Faye Dunaway in one instance. She said, “I was very guilty,” not “I felt very guilty.”