Even with rain clouds threatening from above, the spirits, and heels, were high at Diane von Furstenberg’s idyllic Coldwater Canyon property Thursday afternoon.
The famed fashion designer and philanthropist had invited all the female Oscar nominees to gather at her home before the Academy Awards Sunday for an event that gave new meaning to the term “power lunch.”
Attendees roaming the impeccably groomed grounds, lush and green from the recent rains in Los Angeles, included 50-some nominees, like actresses Melissa McCarthy, Glenn Close and “Roma’s” Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira, ‘RBG’ directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West, ‘Free Solo’ filmmaker Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, ‘Black Panther’ production designer Hannah Beachler and ‘A Star Is Born’ producer Lynette Howell Taylor, as well as film academy governor Laura Dern, and Universal Pictures chair Donna Langley.
Von Furstenberg is a film buff — ‘Roma’ was among her favourites this year — and has hosted this event for the past five years, although this year was notable for the sheer number of women nominated.
“As women, we know that we don’t have the luxury of just doing our work,” film academy CEO Dawn Hudson told the women gathered after lunch in von Furstenberg’s living room. “We get to do our work while changing the world. It has to happen simultaneously.”
Hudson touted 2019 female nominees, which she said was the largest group in academy history.
“But we don’t have directors! We don’t have cinematographers,” von Furstenberg interjected. “We have a long way to go.”
Even with the film academy’s push in recent years to diversify membership, the ranks are still 69 per cent men and 84 per cent white — which is significantly more diverse than it was just a few years ago.
“The numbers are trending in the right direction, but we have a lot of work to do,” Hudson said.
She encouraged all the attendees, now part of the academy’s 1 1/2-year-old Women’s Initiative, to sign up to take an aspiring filmmaker to lunch.
Every nominee got a chance to introduce themselves to the group, too, as a microphone was passed around from actresses to producers to directors to sound mixers. McCarthy, standing in the back of the room with ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ screenwriter Nicole Holofcener broke ranks a bit in the format and got everyone laughing.
“Hello I’m Melissa McCarthy. I’m a Virgo,” she said.
Close followed suit: “I’m a Pisces, my life has been so difficult.”
In addition to celebrating the nominees, the luncheon was also partially in support of the upcoming Academy Museum (Furstenberg is a member of its board of trustees.)
“I encourage you to support one another and I also encourage you to support the museum that is happening,” Furstenberg said. “It’s a big, big deal that the film academy did not have a museum.”
Dern said that she’s been dreaming of a film museum in Los Angeles for her whole life. At 8 years old, she remembers telling her godmother, actress Shelley Winters, that she wanted to learn about film for her birthday.
“[Winters] turned to my mother and said, ‘Are you [expletive] kidding me? The only place I can take her is the Hollywood Wax Museum?” Dern said. “So we’ve been waiting for a really long time to have a place where all of your stories are told.”
The board is making an effort to highlight the often-overlooked contributions of women to early cinema, like filmmaker Alice Guy-Blache.
Ava DuVernay joined the event a little later. She had been at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon beforehand and apologised for not having prepared remarks.
“There were 200 black women gathered to celebrate themselves in an industry that doesn’t celebrate them,” DuVernay said. “As I left, I thought, we should all be together. I hope that one day we’ll have a room like that.”
Langley and Close were among many who nodded vigorously. Some even shouted, “Yes!”
“But for today, I thank you, Diane, for creating a room like this,” DuVernay said. “It’s really rare to see your sisters like this. It feels good to be here.”
And with that, von Furstenberg, invited all the “goddesses” to dessert.