Academy luncheon is time for reflection in high stakes year

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) -- 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.

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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.'"

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.



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