Last week, awards season aficionados and fans were surprised with a particular nominee for this year’s Academy Awards. While most of us considered Viola Davis a shoo-in for the Lead Actress category due to her performance in the epic blockbuster The Woman King, as well as a possible nod to Danielle Deadwyler for playing the title character in the real-life based drama Till, we got a surprising nomination for British star Andrea Riseborough. The nod champions her powerful performance in To Leslie — but that nod prompted some discussions about breaking Academy Award rules, privilege, and the blurry lines of film campaigns at the Oscars.
According to a Puck article, Riseborough’s campaign to score a Best Actress challenged some rules of what goes and what doesn’t when your vying for Academy voters to root for your work or performance. One rule in specific actively discourages lobbying, which in theory should level the playing field for nominees who don’t have the funding to back a promoting campaign — usually tiny-budget independent films. The rule reads:
“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 is expressly forbidden.”
The Problem With Andrea Riseborough’s Campaign
However, this rule doesn’t factor in influence. Criticism for Riseborough’s nomination highlights the fact that fellow actress and producer Mary McCormack and other friends of Riseborough‘s not directly associated with To Leslie used their connections to email and call several Academy voters (once you’re nominated you’re automatically made a voting member). The emails and calls urged fellow actors and producers to watch and start a word-of-mouth campaign for To Leslie. The Academy Award board members will hold a meeting next Tuesday to discuss if Riseborough’s team has broken the rules and if her nomination should be revoked.
Regardless of the decision made next Tuesday, the issue with Riseborough’s nomination runs through several complex elements that taint the kind of criteria that is used during the awards season. Even though after the scandalous #OscarsSoWhite campaign the Academy has made a point of making the nominations more diverse, we’re still a long way from having a ceremony that truly honors talent from all colors and backgrounds. Events like this seem to highlight that BIPOC professionals are only getting nominated as a courtesy, and it doesn’t take much to exclude them from the ballot.
Oscars So White… Again?
As some people point out, Riseborough’s inclusion among the five nominees (the other four are Cate Blanchett, Michelle Williams, Ana De Armas, and Michelle Yeoh) pushed out bigger and Black names like Viola Davis simply because the indie-film surprise nominee had the connections to (white) people who could make her nod a reality. At the same time, we can’t ignore that the Academy’s rules for campaigning during the awards season are far from perfect, and it frequently pushes out small-budget films that lack the resources to make themselves noticeable to voting members. In an interview with Collider, Riseborough herself spoke out about To Leslie’s Spirit Awards nomination and how hard it is for an independent movie to score a nomination:
“I mean, it’s incredible … I was promoting four films this year, two of which had huge platforms behind them and a lot of muscle. This is not one of those. [Laughs] We’ve done a lot of legwork ourselves to basically share the film with the world […] I think the real win for the film is that the [Spirit Award] nomination brings it to more people. It feels wonderful in every way for it to be recognized, [and] for the performance to be recognized.”
This is only the beginning of a debate that should get heated over the next few days, especially when it will take a while for Academy Award board members to convene. Stick with Collider to know how this story unfolds as soon as new information pops up.