Academy luncheon time for reflection – Oscar telecast will be ‘most diverse ever’

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French-Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch (left), delivers his speech after his film ‘Much Loved’ was awarded as best francophone movie out of France during the 21st Prix des Lumieres awards ceremony in Paris, France, Feb 8.
French-Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch (left), delivers his speech after his film ‘Much Loved’ was awarded as best francophone movie out of France during the 21st Prix des Lumieres awards ceremony in Paris, France, Feb 8.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif, Feb 9, (Agencies): The annual Oscar nominees luncheon is generally a time of low-stakes celebration, but this year amid discussions of Oscar diversity and a boycott, as well as dramatic changes to academy membership, the Monday gathering was also one for reflection.

Those at the luncheon did their best to keep things focused on the nominees and not the controversy swirling around the industry. Producers Reginald Hudlin and David Hill also announced a big change for the show on Feb 28. Winners will still have a tight 45 seconds for their acceptance speeches, but now, thanks to a scroll of key names that will appear on the screen, the speech doesn’t just have to be a list of people.

This development, they hope, will give winners an opportunity to say what’s in their heart, rather than worrying about forgetting to thank an agent, producer or director.

While the luncheon was full of schmoozing and love, with attendees like Steven Spielberg, Alejandro Inarritu, Lady Gaga and more, backstage, diversity and #OscarsSoWhite dominated the discussions.

Sylvester Stallone, who became a focal point in the controversy for being the sole nominee (supporting actor) from “Creed,” which had both a black director and lead actor, said he consulted with director Ryan Coogler as to whether or not he should attend at all.

“I said, ‘if you want me to go, I’ll go, if you don’t, I won’t,’” Stallone told reporters before lunch. “He said, ‘Just go there and try to represent the film.’”

Diversity

Prior to the luncheon at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., various nominees stopped to speak to a room of reporters about everything from finance reform to fashion. But Stallone wasn’t the only one thinking about the question of diversity, both at the Oscars and in the industry at large. For his part, Stallone said that he believes things will change and it’s just a matter of time.

“Spotlight” director Tom McCarthy complimented Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for doing “an amazing job of navigating change.”

McCarthy said he has faith in the film community’s ability to push the needle for change.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” director George Miller said that from his standpoint, casting is story-driven and commented how television has been ahead of the game in diverse casting.

Rooney Mara, nominated for her supporting performance in the 1950s-set lesbian drama “Carol,” said she had just read an article the other day suggesting that there should be a hashtag for “Oscars so straight.”

“These are all important conversations for us to be having,” Mara said.

Beyond the discussions of #OscarsSoWhite, the nominees were also just excited to be there to celebrate with their peers.

Alicia Vikander, nominated for her supporting performance in “The Danish Girl,” was one appreciating the moment. She saw her co-star Eddie Redmayne (also a nominee) go through the process last year during filming when he was nominated, and won, for “The Theory of Everything.”

“He said try and enjoy it because it is very wonderful,” Vikander said.

Isaacs also tried to steer the focus back to the nominees at large inside the room.

“This year, we all know there’s an elephant in the room. I’ve asked the elephant to leave,” said Isaacs in her opening remarks. “Today is all about your incredible work.”

The annual event brings together over 150 nominees to celebrate the honor before the golden statuettes are actually handed out at the 88th Academy Awards ceremony on Feb 28.

This year’s Oscar show “will be the most diverse ever,” producer David Hill told Variety on Monday at the Oscar nominees luncheon. Despite the lack of acting nominees of color — which the Academy has no control over — Hill and fellow Academy Awards producer Reginald Hudlin have been working since September to make sure the Oscars “will have true diversity and will represent what the world looks like.”

The remarks were made at the 35th annual event at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Hudlin said that an Oscar nomination is “an amazing moment in the life of any nominee,” and that the lunch is intended to celebrate their accomplishments.

They agreed that it’s crucial for the entire film industry to attain inclusion, but there is also room to celebrate the great film work of 2015, which been somewhat overshadowed in the past month. Or, as Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said in addressing the luncheon crowd: “This year, there’s an elephant in the room. I have asked the elephant to leave.”

On Monday, a few contenders addressed the elephant — diversity and #Oscarssowhite.

Injustice

While many nominees spoke about diversity in terms of racial inequality, others addressed different forms of injustice.

Eddie Redmayne said he hopes “The Danish Girl” continues the conversation about transgender issues. “And yet, what is dumbfounding is that it’s almost 100 years since Lili and Gerda’s story. What’s staggering to me is how long it’s taken and how much of a distance there is to go,” Redmayne said.

“Spotlight’s” Rachel McAdams discussed starring in a male-heavy cast. “I took Sacha’s lead because she was the only woman on a team of men on the real Spotlight team. She always felt she was an equal, integral part of the team and that she was treated that way.”

“Room” director Lenny Abrahamson emphasized that he and screenwriter Emma Donoghue really thought about how society should treat people who have gone through terrible things. “We should treat them not as a resource for entertainment but as people who need care and compassion,” Abrahamson said.

When a reporter asked Brie Larson about her dress for the Oscars, the actress responded, “Oh. That’s what you wanna ask me?”

Larson did answer the question, but saying she wants her clothes to express “what’s happening on the inside. So, my goal with each dress that I’ve worn is just to try and reflect what my soul looks like, which is far more complicated than any dress could ever be.”

Inside the nominees luncheon, the emphasis was on work. The Academy has a democratic seating method, in which a best-pic producer sits at the same table as makeup people, and a star like Matt Damon sits with short-subject and foreign-language contenders. The goal is to make every table equally important and give film workers a chance to speak with people whose work they admired.After Boone Isaacs’ speech, Hudlin and Hill spoke to the 100-plus nominees in attendance about Oscarcast logistics, such as keeping their speeches brief. A new crawl was demoed that will show names of people being thanked by winners onscreen during their speeches. Oscar host Chris Rock did not attend.

Among those who showed up for the schmoozing and celebration were 15 acting nominees, including Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. Also there: all five directing contenders, including George Miller and Saturday night’s DGA winner Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Best-song contender Lady Gaga got a shout-out from Hill, who said he’d produced many Super Bowls, but her rendition of the national anthem was the best.

Aside from Lawrence, DiCaprio and Damon, actors in attendance at the luncheon were Bryan Cranston, Eddie Redmayne, Brie Larson, Charlotte Rampling, Saoirse Ronan, Christian Bale, Mark Ruffalo, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rooney Mara, Rachel McAdams and Alicia Vikander.

The acting no-shows were Cate Blanchett, Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance and Kate Winslet, all of whom have been low-profile during the campaign season.

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