BEVERLY HILLS, California– The slap sat front and center at Monday’s Oscar nominees luncheon.
So much so that Film Academy President Janet Yang didn’t have to describe it or name Will Smith or Chris Rock so the ballroom full of award contenders knew what she was talking about when she expressed her regret.
“I’m sure you all remember that we witnessed an unprecedented event at the Oscars,” Yang said during her opening address to a crowd that included Tom Cruise, Angela Bassett, Cate Blanchett and Steven Spielberg. “What happened on stage was totally unacceptable and the response from our organization was inadequate.”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences barely responded to Smith taking the stage and slapping Rock during or immediately after last year’s Oscars broadcast. It was nearly two weeks before the board of governors voted to bar Smith from the Oscars and all other academy events for 10 years. Smith had already pre-emptively resigned as an academician.
“We learned from this that the academy must be completely transparent and accountable in our actions,” Yang said, “and especially in times of crisis, you must act quickly, compassionately and decisively for us and our industry.” They shouldn’t and can’t expect anything less from us as we move forward.”
Yang, who was not president at the time, was interrupted by a gentle round of applause and did not elaborate, instead shifting to happier topics.
She was greeted with thunderous applause as she told the nominees that all categories will be shown live on ABC’s March 12 show. Last year, in a controversy largely overshadowed by the slap, several Oscars were awarded in a pre-airing ceremony and edited versions of the winners’ speeches were squeezed into the main show.
Lunch is a warm, feel-good affair, where nominees are generally treated equally and a relative stranger for best animated short could be seated alongside an A-lister for best actor.
Some, of course, attract more attention than others and don’t have to wear the name tags that are given to everyone.
Top Gun: Maverick producer nominee Tom Cruise briefly managed to blend in with the crowd in a ballroom at the Beverly Hilton before drawing a crowd of onlookers.
He and Jamie Lee Curtis, who received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Everything Everywhere All at Once, pressed their foreheads together and giggled as they bumped into each other.
He smiled widely as he chatted with veteran War of the Worlds and Minority Report collaborators Steven Spielberg, who was nominated for Best Director for The Fabelmans, and Michelle Yeoh, who was nominated for Best Actress for Everything Everywhere All at was nominated, and Once posed for photos, the most nominated film of the year.
Odessa Rae, producer of the nominated documentary “Navalny,” in a pairing representative of the randomly appearing seating plan, chatted with fellow table and Best Actor nominee Colin Farrell over lunch of risotto and oyster mushrooms sliced so that they resemble scallops.
At another table nearby, Causeway nominee Brian Tyree Henry laughed with Jenny Slate, voice actress for animated feature nominee Marcel the Shell With Shoes On.
The heart of the lunch is the class picture, the staging of which feels like a high school diploma. An academy governor read the names of 182 nominees and their peers cheered as they took to the stage and took their seats.
“Jamie Lee Curtis,” producer DeVon Franklin announced loudly into the mic. Curtis jumped up and got a big ovation as she climbed to the top level alone.
Henry, a first-time contestant, stood at his table, raised an arm in the air and yelped when his name was called.
Ke Huy Quan, another first-timer nominee for Best Supporting Actor for Everything, Everywhere at Once, ran to his seat and shook his fists in triumph. He hugged “Babylon” composer Justin Hurwitz, who was supposed to be standing next to him.
Bassett, nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, received one of the biggest cheers of the afternoon when her name was called and hugged Cruise as she took her seat next to him.
Lunch also serves as Oscar orientation for potential winners. Yang stressed that acceptance speeches at next month’s ceremony must be limited to 45 seconds.
“Let’s say it together, 45 seconds,” she told the crowd.
They repeated it to her in unison, although at least some will surely forget—or ignore—the moment they hold the statue in their hands.
Follow AP Entertainment writer Andrew Dalton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/andyjamesdalton