On the surface, the annual Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Art + Film gala is meant to raise lots of money for the local arts org’s film programs while also providing the city with a world-class glitterati social schmooze that attracts the biggest stars and the major moguls to the Wilshire Boulevard party. You can tick those boxes with the millions raised and the starry crowd feasting on chef Joachim Splichal‘s treats.

Showbiz moguls included Bob Iger, Arnon Milchan, Mike Medavoy, Bob Daly, Brad Grey, Bob Shaye, Steve Bing, Megan Ellison, Jim Gianopulos and Brian Grazer while the talent side of the aisle included Usher, Chloe Sevigny, Dakota Johnson, Jason Statham, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, event co-chair Leonardo DiCaprio, Julian Sands, Gwyneth Paltrow and Joe Walsh, who performed as a last minute substitute for the strangely absent English crooner Sam Smith. T Bone Burnett noted that Smith’s 5 p.m. withdrawal from the show, reportedly due to a bout with the flu, led to his panicked call to Walsh, who ably entertained the crowd with songs that were hits decades before the absent Smith was born.

But beneath the upbeat arts-oriented celebration, the rivalry between Los Angeles and New York for cultural relevance and primacy was never far from the on-stage banter, first from honoree, artist James Turrell and then, more pointedly, from filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Turrell recalled that early in his career, the legendary New York art scene tastemaker Clement Greenberg warned him about trying to establish a career in Los Angeles, noting that in Greenberg’s view, “New York was a city of culture and Los Angeles was a city of entertainment.” After decades working outside of the California art scene, Turrell proclaimed “the transition of this town has happened without me” and noted in a line that drew laughs and applause, “I am no longer LACMA intolerant.”

In an intro that was one part arts appreciation and another awards season tub-thumping, DiCaprio called Inarritu, the director of his contending film “The Revenant,” “a bold creative force.” But it was Inarritu who galvanized the audience with his contrast of the inclusive, humanistic spirit of the evening with an event that was happening at virtually the same time on the East Coast.

Though he never mentioned GOP presidential contender Donald Trump by name, the man hosting the venerable TV comedy program “Saturday Night Live” in New York drew a fiery denunciation from Inarritu, who said attacks on Inarritu’s native country of Mexico were “widely spread by the media without any shame” and opined that Trump’s SNL appearance turned “words of hate” into “mere entertainment, a joke” but he cautioned that “words have real power.”

Inarritu asked that instead of the term “illegals” that is currently used to describe Latin immigrants to America, he offered the phrase “undocumented dreamers,” which the Oscar-winning filmmaker said “also described the people who founded this country.” Inarritu drew rousing applause from the packed gala audience when he concluded that he spoke as “a filmmaker, a Mexican and a human being” and asked for the audience to ponder one key word that he said is at the heart of every artist’s mission: “Compassion.”


Dakota Johnson
Michael Buckner/WWD/Rex Shutterstock
Jared Leto and gala host committee chair and Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele
Michael Buckner/WWD/Rex Shutterstock