Andrea Riseborough's Oscar nomination stands despite 'concern' over campaign tactics
Capping a week of debate and hand-wringing in Hollywood over Andrea Riseborough's surprise lead actress Oscar nomination for the little-seen film "To Leslie," the motion picture academy announced on Tuesday that the nomination will stand, even as it vowed to further refine and clarify the rules around campaigning for the awards.
The decision, reached by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' board of governors, came just days after the organization announced it was conducting a review of this year's nominations to ensure that the aggressive grassroots push that led to Riseborough's nomination did not violate its rules around campaigning.
"The Academy has determined the activity in question does not rise to the level that the film's nomination should be rescinded," academy CEO Bill Kramer wrote in a statement. "However, we did discover social media and outreach campaigning tactics that caused concern. These tactics are being addressed with the responsible parties directly.
"The purpose of the Academy's campaign regulations is to ensure a fair and ethical awards process — these are core values of the Academy," Kramer's statement continued. "Given this review, it is apparent that components of the regulations must be clarified to help create a better framework for respectful, inclusive, and unbiased campaigning. These changes will be made after this awards cycle and will be shared with our membership. The Academy strives to create an environment where votes are based solely on the artistic and technical merits of the eligible films and achievements."
Riseborough's unexpected nod for her turn as an addict struggling with her demons was driven by a brief but intense grassroots campaign of emails, social media posts and screenings to highlight her performance, with A-listers like Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, Edward Norton, Charlize Theron and others lending their support to the cause.
Riseborough's nomination for a film that earned just $27,000 at the box office quickly became the talk of the industry, with some quietly questioning whether the aggressive lobbying — spearheaded by Riseborough's manager, Jason Weinberg, and actor Mary McCormack, the wife of "To Leslie" director Michael Morris — broke the academy's rules around Oscar campaigns.
Fueling the debate over Riseborough's nod were the exclusions of Viola Davis ("The Woman King") and Danielle Deadwyler ("Till"), who were both considered strong contenders, from the nominees.
In a post on Instagram following the nominations, "Till" director Chinonye Chukwu suggested the results indicated systemic bias in the industry, though she did not directly refer to Riseborough. "We live in a world and work in industries that are so aggressively committed to upholding whiteness and perpetuating an unabashed misogyny towards Black women," Chukwu wrote. (Whoopi Goldberg, a producer and co-star of "Till," serves on the academy's board of governors representing the acting branch.)
The academy maintains a set of rules around what is permissible when vying for nominations, which have been periodically updated as the ever-escalating arms race of Oscar campaigning has grown more expensive and intense. The rules govern everything from how many emails studios can send to academy voters to the kind of food and drink that can be served at screenings (only "non-excessive" refreshments, nothing too lavish).
When it comes to individual lobbying, the academy's rules forbid "contacting academy members directly and in a manner outside of the scope of these rules to promote a film or achievement for Academy Award consideration." As many have pointed out, however, soliciting votes for friends and allies through personal connections is a practice virtually as old as the Oscars themselves.
Insiders say the academy never received any complaints about the Riseborough campaign, suggesting the review was driven less by concrete accusations than by more nebulous concerns about public perception.
Highlighting how thorny the issue had become for the academy, the very fact that the academy was conducting a review of the nominations drew a backlash from some supporters of Riseborough.
Comedian and actor Marc Maron, who co-stars with Riseborough in "To Leslie," blasted the decision on his "WTF With Marc Maron" podcast. "It was in earnest, the campaign, and it is not undeserving," Maron said on Monday of the grassroots support for Riseborough. "But I'm glad the academy — at the behest of special interest and corporate interest and paranoia about how they look — are doing an investigation. Who gives a f—?"
Actor Christina Ricci criticized the review in an Instagram post as "elitist" and "backward." "Seems hilarious that the 'surprise nomination' (meaning tons of money wasn't spent to position this actress) of a legitimately brilliant performance is being met with an investigation," Ricci wrote. "So it's only the films and actors that can afford the campaigns that deserve recognition?"
Director Rod Lurie echoed that sentiment in a Facebook post, calling the review "idiotic" and "insulting." "The fact that this actor and performance got attention via grassroots is, to me, both fair and touching," Lurie wrote. "I would even say that it is a more honest way to get attention than through countless parties and buffets that the larger films can and do offer (which I LOVE and do appreciate)."
Some had speculated that the organization could rescind Riseborough's nomination, leaving the lead actress category with just four nominees, but the organization stopped well short of such a punitive move.
The academy has only rescinded a handful of nominations in its nearly 100-year history — and never for an actor. In 2014, the original song nominee "Alone Yet Not Alone" was disqualified after it was discovered that its composer, Bruce Broughton, had emailed some members of the academy's music branch to make them aware of the song's submission in violation of academy rules. In 2017, sound mixer Greg P. Russell had his nomination for the film "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" rescinded for similar reasons.
Those who backed Riseborough's nomination — including Kate Winslet, who hosted a virtual Q&A with the actress earlier this month — argue that, in the end, the merits of her work were more responsible for the nomination than any campaign tactics.
"This nomination was hard-won for her," Winslet told The Times last week. "She has worked and worked and pushed herself for years. None of that is easy. This nomination is deeply and richly deserved."
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