Andrea Riseborough’s Oscar Nomination Controversy, Explained
Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images
By the time the Oscars roll around, just about anyone who cares about awards season can guess who will and won’t be nominated. But this year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences shocked fans by nominating Andrea Riseborough for Best Actress.
Riseborough, a British actress known for her supporting work in Birdman, Nocturnal Animals and WE, earned her nomination for playing an alcoholic single mother trying to get her life together in the 2022 independent film To Leslie, a performance and film that won been completely absent from all other awards. So how did she make it all the way to the Oscars? The answer, it seems, was a grassroots campaign that used the famous connections of Riseborough, To Leslie director Michael Morris and Morris’ wife, actress Mary McCormack.
Following the backlash over the nomination, the Academy announced that it would investigate the nomination process. While she didn’t specifically call out Riseborough’s surprise nod at the time, the Academy later confirmed they had met to discuss To Leslie’s campaign. In a statement on Tuesday, the Academy said it had decided not to withdraw Riseborough’s nomination, but the saga could still have major implications for how Oscar campaigns are conducted in the future. Here’s what you need to know about the controversy.
What separates Riseborough’s “For Your Consideration” campaign from those of Cate Blanchett or Michelle Williams is money. While studios often (but not always) fund aggressive Oscar campaigns leading to nominations, including mailings to Academy members, private screenings, billboard and ad buys, and lobbying aggressive media in print and on talk shows, To Leslie did not have a major studio behind him to fund such an operation. Riseborough did not appear on the cover of magazines leading up to the nomination voting window, nor did she make the rounds on daytime television. Instead, Morris and his wife reportedly took matters into their own hands and called every actor they knew who might have connections at the Academy. Only members of the Academy’s acting branch vote for nominations in the acting category, so they focused on actors like Charlize Theron, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, and more, reaching out to them. personally and asking them to watch To Leslie and consider Riseborough’s performance.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Morris and Riseborough worked with publicists from Shelter PR, who teamed up with the actor’s publicist and called the director’s network of celebrity friends over the holidays, just before voting began. for Oscar nominations. The result was a massive outpouring of support from Riseborough’s peers. Gwyneth Paltrow reportedly hosted a screening of the film in January. Demi Moore, Kate Winslet and Amy Adams were enlisted to lead the Q&A after the screening during voting. Others, like Edward Norton, Helen Hunt and Susan Sarandon, are said to have defended Riseborough’s performance on social media. Cate Blanchett even paid tribute to her at the Critics Choice Awards.
Given that awards shows are known to be a popularity contest, this might not seem unusual. Of course, people want to support their friends, and even actors who benefit from the massive PR machine leading up to awards season recognize the unfair advantage of studio films over independent films. However, not everyone sees Riseborough’s nomination as a victory for word of mouth campaigns. In the week since the nominations were announced, some have speculated that the campaign may have violated Academy rules against lobbying members for nominations or votes.
Last month, the Academy announced it would “conduct a review” of the 2023 Oscars nomination process, by Deadline, to “ensure no guidelines were violated and to let us know if any changes guidelines may be needed in a new era”. social media and digital communication. This vague statement is in line with what had been reported: that the Academy was examining how the Riseborough campaign used social media posts to increase visibility, including asking other celebrities and Academy members to boost the movie on Instagram and Twitter if they liked it.
A Vanity Fair report speculated that the campaign may have violated the Academy’s rule against lobbying, which states: “Contacting Academy members directly and in a manner outside the scope of these rules to promote a film or production for an Oscar is expressly prohibited. .” There are also rules that limit the amount of “mail and email” sent to Academy members, as well as the content of those mailings. For example, submissions cannot include “invitations to watch the film” or “praising the merits of a film, achievement or individual”. Other rules prohibit hosting luncheons or screenings specifically for Academy members to boost a film, which McCormack, the director’s wife, allegedly did. However, these rules may only apply to “film companies” and people directly associated with the film. McCormack is neither.
In its statement regarding the campaign investigation, the Academy did not specify which rules it suspected To Leslie’s team violated. However, they noted: “We have uncovered social media and outreach campaign tactics that have raised concern.” The statement continued, “These tactics are being handled directly with the responsible parties.” It’s likely to have to do with the rule against mentioning other nominees in promotional material, or “attempting to cast a negative or derogatory light on a compelling film or achievement.” As reported by Variety, To Leslie’s official Instagram account has come under scrutiny for a post that apparently singled out Riseborough’s performance over Blanchett’s. The post has since been deleted. (Actress Frances Fisher also received backlash for specifically naming other actresses vying for the nomination in her pro-Riseborough Instagram posts.)
Riseborough will be able to keep her nomination, although the Academy has said that “it is obvious that elements of the rules need to be clarified to help create a better framework for a respectful, inclusive and impartial campaign”, and that it stands expected changes to be made. “after this round of awards.” These potential political shifts notwithstanding, Riseborough’s successful grassroots campaign could have implications for years to come.
It’s exciting to think that the Oscars could be less beholden to major studio-funded campaigns, because that, in theory, could open up the Oscars to a more diverse pool of nominees. However, as some have suggested, it could also result in a more insular and frankly white Hollywood. “Power and influence are very valuable in the race for awards,” Vanity Fair’s Rebecca Ford tweeted. “And because of the systemic issues that still plague Hollywood, some people have less access to these things. It is best to remember how it affects who is brought up by others.
Riseborough’s nomination also received backlash from critics who hoped to see a more diverse set of Best Actress Oscar nominees. Viola Davis (The Woman King) and Danielle Deadwyler (Till) – both of whom reportedly received studio help with the Oscar campaigns – were unsuccessful. The fact that the category is predominantly white, coupled with Riseborough’s surprise nomination, has some fans accusing the actor of taking the place of Davis or Deadwyler. (It didn’t help that Academy member Fisher explicitly noted on her Instagram that Viola Davis, Michelle Yeoh, Danielle Deadwyler, and Cate Blanchett were “a lock,” implying that they had no needed voter support – which turned out to be a miscalculation.) The idea that Riseborough might have “stealed” a place is both unprovable and a bit simplistic given the appalling history of the Academy when it comes to nominating actors of color. That said, the juxtaposition of Riseborough’s nomination with the rebuffs of Davis and Deadwyler calls into question whether a grassroots campaign would work for a black actor in Riseborough’s position.
The majority of Academy members who are said to have helped boost Riseborough’s campaign are white women – a reflection of the nearly all-white Best Actress Oscar winners. (As of 2022, Halle Berry remains the only woman of color to win the award.) Speaking with The Washington Post about her support for Riseborough, Winslet, who recently worked on a film with the actor, said she was simply motivated to sustain a great performance. “In our industry, actresses support each other deeply, but it’s rarely written,” she said. “We all take care of each other.” It’s a nice feeling, but if the Riseborough campaign becomes a new blueprint, it’s worth wondering which actors are giving and receiving that support.
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