Oscars: Nominees Lunch Steers Clear of Controversy

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Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Sylvester Stallone

The show's producers reveal how they hope to keep winners from reciting a long list of names.

This year’s Academy Awards have been overshadowed by the #OscarsSoWhite controversy triggered by another year in which the acting nominees included no people of color. But at its annual Nominees Luncheon, held Monday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the Academy trained its spotlight on the nominees from all its 24 categories — setting the controversy aside for the day.

"This year, we all know there is an elephant in the room," Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said in her opening remarks, welcoming the nominees before lunch was served. "I have asked the elephant to leave. Today is all about your incredible work on the screen and behind the camera that has touched millions globally and earned you a place in Hollywood history."

Choosing to focus on the upcoming Oscar show itself, producers David Hill and Reginald Hudlin announced a new method for reducing the litany of names that winners tend to recite in their thank-yous. "Acceptance speeches have become a list of names and more often than not, time ran out before something could be spoken from the heart about the art, about the vision, about the experience, about the meaning of the moment," Hill said. "We needed to rethink how this could be a better experience for everyone."

The solution he unveiled, admitting that the details remain a work-in-progress: A scroll will run at the bottom of the screen in which winners can list those they want to thank. It will be, Hill promised, "a permanent record of your gratitude."

Before the luncheon began, many of the acting nominees and a few of the nominated directors like Spotlight’s Tom McCarthy, dropped by a press room, where they were peppered with questions about the diversity issue.

But only Sylvester Stallone, nominated as best supporting actor for reprising his signature role of Rocky Balboa in Creed, chose to tackle the subject, telling reporters that he had talked with the movie’s writer-director Ryan Coogler, offering to boycott the Oscars since neither Coogler or star Michael B. Jordan were nominated for the film.

Stallone related, "I said, 'If you want me to go, I’ll go. If you don’t want me to go, I won’t.' He said, 'I want you to go.' Because that’s the kind of guy he is. He wanted me to stand up for the film."

Referencing Coogler and Jordan, Stallone added, "I really do owe everything to these two young men."

The other nominees chose to deflect the questions. Asked if she’d talked with her fellow nominees about the #OscarsSoWhite movement, Rooney Mara, a supporting actress nominee for Carol, responded, "I haven’t really had a chance to talk with any of the other nominees about it."

Eddie Redmayne, last year’s best actor winner for The Theory of Everything, who is nominated this year for The Danish Girl, echoed that thought, saying, "This is the first time we are really all in the same room together."

In addition to more than 150 nominees and 36 of the 51 members of the Academy’s board of governors, the event attracted five of the Academy's past presidents, whom Boone Isaacs asked to stand and take a bow: Sid Ganis, Richard Kahn, Howard Koch, Walter Mirisch and Robert Rehme.

She also saluted Hudlin and Hill, who are producing the 88th Oscars — which airs Feb. 28 — and the show’s host Chris Rock. "It’s going to be an amazing evening," she said of the upcoming awards ceremony.

During his remarks, Hill, who has produced plenty of live sporting broadcasts, including past Super Bowls, also singled out Lady Gaga, a nominee this year for the song "Till It Happens to You" from the documentary The Hunting Ground, hailing her performance of the national anthem at Sunday’s Super Bowl, calling it "the best rendition I have ever heard, and, trust me, I've heard a lot."

– Scott Feinberg contributed to this report

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