The slap sat front and centre at Monday’s Oscar nominees luncheon.
So much so that motion picture academy president Janet Yang neither had to describe it nor say the names Will Smith or Chris Rock for the ballroom full of award hopefuls to know what she was talking about when she aired her regrets.
”I’m sure you all remember we experienced an unprecedented event at the Oscars,” Yang told a crowd that included Tom Cruise, Angela Bassett, Cate Blanchett and Steven Spielberg during her opening remarks.
”“What happened onstage was wholly unacceptable and the response from our organisation was inadequate.” The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did little in response to Smith storming the stage and slapping Rock during last year’s Oscars telecast or in the immediate aftermath.
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It was nearly two weeks before its board of governors voted to ban Smith from the Oscars and all other academy events for 10 years. Smith had already preemptively resigned as an academy member.
”We learned from this that the academy must be fully transparent and accountable in our actions,” Yang said, ”and particularly in times of crisis you must act swiftly, compassionately and decisively for ourselves and for our industry. You should and can expect no less form us going forward.” Yang, who was not president at the time, was interrupted by a mild round of applause, and did not elaborate further, moving on to happier topics.
She was met with whooping applause when told the nominees that all categories will be shown live on the March 12 ABC telecast.
Last year, in a controversy largely eclipsed by the slap, several Oscars were handed out in a pre-telecast ceremony and edited versions of winners’ speeches were squeezed into the main show.
The luncheon is a warm, feel-good affair where nominees are in general treated with equality, and a relative unknown up for best animated short might be seated next to an A-lister up for best actor.
Some, of course, attract more attention than others, and don’t need to wear the nametags handed out to all.
Tom Cruise, nominated as a producer for best picture candidate ”Top Gun: Maverick”, managed briefly to mix in with the crowd in a ballroom at the Beverly Hilton before he attracted a crowd of gawkers.
He and Jamie Lee Curtis, up for best supporting actress for ”Everything Everywhere All at Once”, pressed their foreheads together and giggled when they bumped into each other.
He smiled widely as he posed for photos with his old “War of the Worlds” and “Minority Report” collaborator Steven Spielberg, up for best director for “The Fabelmans”, and Michelle Yeoh, up for best actress for “Everything Everywhere All at Once”, the year’s most nominated film.
In a pairing representative of the random-seeming seating chart, Odessa Rae, producer of the nominated documentary feature “Navalny”, chatted with table-mate and best actor nominee Colin Farrell during the lunch of risotto and oyster mushrooms cut to resemble scallops.
At another table nearby, Brian Tyree Henry, best supporting actor nominee for “Causeway”, laughed with Jenny Slate, voice star of animated feature nominee “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On”.
The centrepiece of the luncheon is the class picture, the staging of which feels like a high school graduation. An academy governor read off the names of 182 nominees and their peers cheered as they walked up and took their spots on the risers.
“Jamie Lee Curtis,” producer DeVon Franklin enunciated loudly into the mic. Curtis leapt up and got a big ovation as she climbed alone to the top tier.
Henry, a first-time nominee, stood at his table, raised an arm in the air and yelped when his name was called.
Ke Huy Quan, another first-timer, up for best supporting actor for ”Everything Everywhere All at Once”, ran up to his spot in front and shook his fists in triumph. He hugged “Babylon” composer Justin Hurwitz, assigned to stand next to him.
Bassett, nominated for best supporting actress for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”, got one of the afternoon’s biggest cheers when her name was called, and hugged Cruise when she got to her spot next to him.
The luncheon also functions as an Oscars orientation for would-be winners. Yang emphasised that acceptance speeches at next month’s ceremony have to be kept to 45 seconds.
”Let’s say it together, 45 seconds,” she told the crowd.
They repeated it back to her in unison, though at least a few are sure to forget — or ignore her — once they get the statue in their hands.