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Laverne Cox, ‘Compton’ Writers, Reginald Hudlin Talk Diversity at NAACP Lunch

One day after the Academy announced changes in its membership rules, Oscar show producer Reginald Hudlin enthused: “The Academy did an amazing thing. This will make the Academy better.” He also predicted that the changes are more significant than most people realize.

Hudlin was speaking to Variety at the NAACP Image Awards nominees luncheon Saturday, where contenders talked about diversity but also addressed a parallel topic that’s been muted this past week: The artistry and good work created this past year by a wide range of individuals.

The dozens of Image contenders at the Beverly Hilton included a cross-section of artists, including blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, LGBT people and more.

Hudlin not only will produce the Oscars with David Hill; he is also returning for a fourth time as exec producer of the Image Awards. “There is not a conflict, the two are complementary,” he said.

As for the Academy, Hudlin said, “I think people don’t understand the extent of what happened, and won’t realize it until these changes start taking place. I challenge other organizations to also make changes. The shift is happening. There’s a lot of talk, but what’s important is action.”

Director Rusty Cundieff, an Image nominee for directing the telefilm “White Water,” says all the talk about awards inclusion is important: “It’s not about quotas; it’s about getting the film industry to better represent the diversity in the population.” He adds that “Hopefully it pushes the art rather than stunting the art.”

Ever since the Jan. 14 announcement of the Oscar nominations, much of the talk has centered around the exclusion of blacks. Sheryl Underwood, repping the nominated “The Talk” chatshow, says, “Let’s also talk about Latinos, let’s talk about Asians, LGBT people, everyone.” And that includes Caucasians: “Let’s have more Sidney Poitiers, and let’s have more Leonardo DiCaprios! Diversity makes everything better. All this makes great art.”

She agreed that it’s not about quotas. “We don’t want special treatment. We want to be part of the process.”

Actor Joe Morton, an Image contender for ABC’s “Scandal,” says TV execs — unlike their film counterparts — realize that talent and creatives needs to look like the rest of the world. “TV has its pulse on audiences.”

The 47th NAACP Image Awards will broadcast live on TV One on Feb. 5 at 9 p.m. EST. Brad Siegel, president of TV One, says the film biz is finally realizing what many others have known for years: Diversity makes sense, artistically and financially. “Diverse artists are not getting the recognition or awards they deserve — and they are also not getting enough work.”

Alan Wenkus, one of the writers who nabbed the sole Oscar nomination for “Straight Outta Compton,” was amazed at the debate in the wake of the few Oscar nominations to people of color: “N.W.A is stirring things up again! That’s what they do, they shine a spotlight on an issue and get the conversation going.”

Laverne Cox said, “America is about multiple races, ethnicities, religions, sexuality.” She realizes how important it is for audiences to see all of this in films and TV. She has received a lot of thanks from the trans community and blacks over her character in “Orange is the New Black,” saying, “It’s so important and so affirmative to see themselves depicted.”

The NAACP Image ceremony was hosted by young “Black-ish” stars Marcus Scribner and Yara Shahid. Among the nominees in attendance were Peter Atencio, Anthony Anderson, Loretta Devine, Naturi Naughton, writer-director Nzingha Stewart, RonReaco Lee,  Salim Akil and Tyrese.

The NAACP Image Awards salute people of color in the arts as well as “individuals or groups who promote social justice through their creative endeavors,” according to the organization.

The afternoon was summed up by Ron Hasson of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood branch of NAACP, telling Variety, “Diversity brings well-rounded artistry. Lack of diversity is often lack of understanding.”

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