It appears as if every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gets into the public spotlight for all the wrong reasons. We’re collectively still recovering from the scandal of last year’s Oscars when an enraged Will Smith stormed the stage to slap Chris Rock in the middle of the event.
This year, however, the first controversy surrounding the coveted film awards has to do with an indie film with blockbuster aspirations. Andrea Riseborough’s Oscar nomination has been the subject of an intense debate regarding the art of campaigning in the modern age of internet social communications.
“To Leslie”, a film that seemingly materialized on the Academy‘s radar out of thin air stars in the center of this debate. More importantly, Riseborough‘s tactics have called into question whether or not the current rules against lobbying for the Academy Awards are still effective, considering the far-reaching capacities of social media.
Who is Andrea Riseborough?
For many mainstream audiences, Andrea Riseborough remains a relatively unknown emerging talent. Riseborough‘s film career began in 2006’s “Venus”, a British comedy-drama. She would then star in a multitude of indie projects coming from her native England until she reached a more global audience in 2013 with Tom Cruise‘s “Oblivion”.
An undeniably talented actress, Riseborough‘s career leans more on the dramatic side. The actress hasn’t abandoned her indie roots, which might be the reason why she starred in last year’s “To Leslie”, a touching film about the downfall of an alcoholic single mother.
Even though it’s a relatively small film – at least when compared to “Oblivion” and “Nocturnal Animals” – “To Leslie” received enormous praise from critics, putting the small movie in the spotlight of a hefty segment of Hollywood‘s royalty. Soon, more than a handful of renowned actors and producers began an arduous campaign on Twitter and other social media, applauding Andrea Riseborough’s role in “To Leslie” and urging the Academy to recognize her merits.
That said, there are particular rules and regulations the Academy has put in place to ensure fair contest in the stages prior to the announcement of the Oscar nominees. This is the heart of the controversy surrounding Riseborough‘s nomination, as there are industry insiders who consider that her uncommon campaign goes against some of the “fair game” norms of the Academy, particularly those regarding the promotion and lobby events tied to any of the possible nominees.
The main reason why Andrea Riseborough‘s Oscar campaign is under scrutiny by the Academy has to do with some uncommon practices that could be considered out of the protocol of the usual Academy Award nominee.
Usually speaking, there’s a strict protocol that every potential Oscar nominee must follow for the Academy to even consider granting them a nomination. The rules in place are designed in such a way that larger-budgeted films don’t have a significant advantage over some more financially-constricted indie films.
That said, “To Leslie”‘s distributor, Momentum Pictures, didn’t run a conventional lobby for the film or Riseborough‘s consideration in the eyes of the Academy. Instead, the film’s director, Michael Morris, aided by his wife, actress Mary McCormack, established a social media campaign to earn the Academy‘s favor and formally nominate Andrea Riseborough for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
This unusual campaign enlisted the help of a good number of well-known celebrities, who took to social media to voice their support for Riseborough‘s nomination. Some of them even held private and public screenings of “To Leslie”, which some critics consider a violation of the Academy Awards rules against lobbying.
Of note were a series of tweets made by multiple celebrities which included very similar wording, leading some to think that they were all part of Morris and McCormick‘s meticulous – if unconventional – campaign.
However, lobbying norms weren’t the only rules that Riseborough‘s campaign seems to have violated. An Instagram post made by “To Leslie”‘s official account promotes Riseborough‘s performance by calling it “[better] than Cate Blanchett‘s” role in “Tár”. The Academy is very clear in that potential nominees can’t single out the competition by name – a rule that Riseborough‘s PR team is seemingly unaware of.
Actress Frances Fisher also took part in this campaign, urging voters to consider Riseborough‘s performance over those of Viola Davis, Michelle Yeoh, Danielle Deadwyler, and Cate Blanchett.
All the buzz surrounding Riseborough‘s campaign led some industry insiders to believe that the Academy might have had more than enough evidence to rescind her nomination, which was formally awarded on January 24. There’s some recent precedent of the Academy annulling nominations due to irregular campaigns, so it stands to reason to believe that there was a chance that AndreaRiseborough‘s nomination would suffer the same fate as Bruce Broughton‘s in 2014 and Greg Russell‘s in 2017.
The Show Must Go On
As it turns out, on January 31, the Academy announced that, after looking into the matter, they had decided to retain AndreaRiseborough‘s nomination. However, that doesn’t mean that the events didn’t leave a permanent mark on the way the Academy views its potential nominees.
Sure, Riseborough‘s nomination stands, but the unorthodox campaign led by Morris and McCormick has forced the Academy to reevaluate the outreach of social media and its potential to affect future campaigns. The Academy also voiced their concern over this situation eventually becoming the norm in the future, seeing as how social media becomes increasingly more prevalent in marketing and award lobbying.
Even though Riseborough‘s campaign was shrouded in doubt, the official communication by the Academy is that there were no direct violations of its guidelines on lobbying and fair campaign. As much as there was talk of a possible annulation from the Academy, the cases in which the Oscars rescind nominations are few and far between. It would have been much more surprising if the result was the opposite of what ended up occurring.
Still, the unusual nature of the whole ordeal has left more than one entertainment commentator shocked as to what just transpired. Riseborough evaded some of the more prominent awards of the season, including the Golden Globes, and went straight for the Oscars. Some critics argue that her surprising nomination would help to prevent some other deserving actresses – like Viola Davis – from even getting a nomination. Davis‘ role in “The Woman King” was one of the most surprising snubs of the Academy Awards, for example.
The ramifications of the entire Riseborough Oscar campaign situation are yet to be seen, but one thing is for sure: the last thing the Academy Awards need after the last couple of years is another scandal on their plates.