If today’s Oscar luncheon is any indication, expect Oscar night to be one political evening. The annual event, held Monday at the Beverly Hilton, honors the year’s class of nominees, including La La Land’s Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, Fences‘ Viola Davis and Denzel Washington, Manchester by the Sea’s Casey Affleck, and Moana’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, among others.
Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, set the tone during her speech in which she recognized the absence of a handful of Oscar nominees who were not in attendance, including Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director of Best Foreign Language Film nominee The Salesman, who is boycotting the ceremony in protest of President Donald Trump’s immigration ban. “Each and every one of us knows that there are some empty chairs in this room, which makes all of us activists,” Isaacs said.
She continued, “Strong societies don’t censor art, they celebrate it. Borders cannot be allowed to stop any of us.”
The Academy holds the annual luncheon to give the nominees an opportunity to meet each other—though most have been on the awards circuit together for months. They also take the class photo (check it out above), and the Academy uses the time to instruct the potential winners on how best to use the crucial 45 seconds given to them for their acceptance speeches.
This year, Academy producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd chose to use Saturday Night Live star Kate McKinnon as their messenger. In a stylized video, McKinnon took on the alter-ego of a 1930s film star named Gloria Concave and delivered their tips for a good speech: Be concise; be speedy; be prepared.
Despite the light nature of the video, most nominees seem to be prepping themselves for speeches that will be political in nature. Jordan Horowitz, producer of La La Land and potential recipient of the Best Picture Oscar on Feb. 26, said he plans on speaking his mind if selected. “I will be political,” he said. “Hopeful and personal, but political.”
And Isaacs is not discouraging that.
“You want your words to matter. You want to be inspiring. You want to lift people up,” says Isaacs in a later interview. “This room is filled with creativity, inspiration, and love. We need to keep that going.”
That feeling pervaded the luncheon itself. CNN commentator Van Jones, who attended as part of Netflix’s nominated documentary 13th, leaped out of his chair to meet Miranda, who thanked the activist “for lifting us all up,” before the two made plans to connect later over social media.
Miranda then made a beeline over to Washington so his mother could meet the two-time Oscar winner. “What did you feed this boy when he was little?” Washington asked Miranda’s mother, Dr. Luz Towns-Miranda, a psychologist and Planned Parenthood Action Fund board member, before he wandered over to Steven Spielberg’s table where he kneeled down between the iconic director and Moonlight director Barry Jenkins for a quick chat.
Meanwhile, nominees Stone, Davis, and Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) posed for a reunion shot from their time together on The Help. It was a sweet moment that was only interrupted by veteran producer John Landis congratulating Spencer and Davis. “I loved you ladies and not just in this film,” he quipped. Both ladies started cracking up. Was this yet another Hidden Fences moment?
Who knows? There was too much good will going around to turn it into anything serious.