Could the grassroots lobbying for 'To Leslie' get Andrea Riseborough disqualified from the Oscars? It's happened before.
- Andrea Riseborough's Oscar-nominated performance in "To Leslie" is being reviewed by the Academy.
- There are questions about whether the 'word-of-mouth' campaign for the actor violated Academy rules.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced on Friday that it is "conducting a review of campaign procedures" following the announcement of this year's nominees — and best actress nominee Andrea Risenborough is at the center of the investigation.
The awards body said in a statement issued to multiple outlets that it was their goal to ensure that "the Awards competition is conducted in a fair and ethical manner." As such, the Academy Board of Governors will meet on Tuesday to discuss if "guidelines were violated" and examine whether changes "may be needed in a new era of social media and digital communication."
While no nominees were mentioned by name in the AMPAS statement, it was clear that there would be only one coming under scrutiny: Andrea Riseborough.
The British star scored a best actress nomination for her performance in the low-budget independent drama "To Leslie," to the surprise of almost everyone (the only exception perhaps being members of the Academy's acting branch who decide the acting Oscar nominee shortlist).
There were audible gasps in the room when Riz Ahmed read out Riseborough's name alongside this year's other best actress hopefuls, Cate Blanchett ("Tár"), Michelle Yeoh ("Everything Everywhere All at Once"), Ana de Armas ("Blonde"), and Michelle Williams ("The Fabelmans"), during last week's nominations livestream. Those at home seemingly had a similar reaction, with searches for the 41-year-old spiking shortly after.
Almost immediately, questions arose over the out-of-nowhere groundswell support for Riseborough's turn in the film — which premiered at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival and grossed only $27,000 in its subsequent theatrical release. Fans raised eyebrows at Viola Davis ("The Woman King") and Danielle Deadwyler ("Till") being overlooked in favor of Risenborough.
And now many are wondering whether Riseborough could have her nod rescinded in light of the questionable lobbying tactics that her team may have employed to secure her spot on the ballot.
Celebs tell Twitter that 'To Leslie' is 'a little film with a big heart'
As Insider's JP Mangalindan previously reported, many, many celebrities who are members of the Oscars acting branch have publicly heaped praise on the film and Riseborough's performance in particular, including Jennifer Aniston, Jane Fonda, Amy Adams, Jamie Lee Curtis, Susan Sarandon, and Howard Stern, among others.
When Charlize Theron hosted a screening of the film last November for fellow Creative Artists Agency members, she proclaimed it "one of those film experiences that are becoming extinct," while Gwyneth Paltrow took to Instagram to extoll that Riseborough "should win every award there is and all the ones that haven't been invented yet."
Edward Norton — who also hosted a screening — told his Twitter followers that Riseborough's performance was "the most fully committed, emotionally deep, physically harrowing performance" he'd seen in a while.
—Edward Norton (@EdwardNorton) January 10, 2023
Kate Winslet, meanwhile, resolutely dubbed Riseborough's portrayal of Leslie, a Texas single mother who squanders her $190,000 lottery winnings, the "greatest female performance onscreen I have ever seen in my life."
And then there was the Twitter campaign.
Several stars, including Mia Farrow, Alison Janney, Dulé Hill, and Joe Mantegna, promoted the film using the same phrase: "To Leslie" is "a small film with a giant heart," they wrote, sparking suspicion on the platform and among Academy watchers.
IndieWire has played down the idea of a conspiracy, implying that all it took was a "few well-placed calls" from first-time filmmaker Michael Morris to get these A-listers to check out the film. Their platitudes were entirely their own, the outlet suggests.
However, Puck News reported that Morris' wife, Mary McCormack (an actor and producer who did not work on the film), and Riseborough's manager, Jason Weinberg, went above and beyond in their requests to members of the Academy's acting branch.
An excerpt from an email alleged to be from McCormack and seen by the outlet asks its recipients to "post every day between now and Jan 17th" to help support Riseborough's chances at securing a nomination before voting closes.
"But anything is helpful, so please do whatever makes you comfortable," the email cheerfully continues. "And what's more comfortable than posting about a movie every day!"
As Puck News reporter Matthew Belloni pointed out, this email is evidence that the campaign may have violated the Academy's tenth rule, which concerns lobbying. It states: "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."
If Riseborough does have her chances of an Oscar dashed over lobbying, it wouldn't be the first time that this has happened
In its 95-year history, the Academy has sought to rescind nine nominations — and the two most recent occurrences have been for violating the rule against lobbying.
The most recent incident was in 2017 when Greg Russell was disqualified for best sound mixing for "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" after it was discovered that he had contacted some of the members of the sound branch via phone call to make them aware of his work on the Michael Bay film.
Three years prior, in 2014, the board of governors voted to revoke a nomination for composer Bruce Broughton and his song "Alone Yet Not Alone" from the film of the same title after it was found that he had "improperly lobbied" more than 70 members of the music branch over email.
In both instances, additional nominees were not named in their place after they were taken out of the running.
So where does that leave Riseborough? There's no doubt that she is a force to be reckoned with, and is overdue recognition for her decades-long career. She's delivered standout performances in Brandon Cronenberg's "Possessor" and Alejandro G. Iñárritu's "Birdman," and more recently, she showed off her chameleon-like abilities to move effortlessly between drama and comedy with her roles in "Roald Dahl's Matilda The Musical" and "Amsterdam."
Still, reaffirming the regulations around what is and isn't acceptable when it comes to campaigning is the right step forward — even if that comes at Riseborough's expense.
Although it seems that it was the furthest thing from what her team set out to achieve, Riseborough's "no-campaign" Oscars campaign has exposed for all to see the shameless cronyism that continues to reign supreme in Hollywood.
Speaking to Variety following her nomination, Riseborough marveled: "The idea that you need endless resources, I don't think that's necessarily true."
What she failed to realize is that as a white, well-connected, and well-established actor, she does have access to an "endless resource" that others do not: a network of other white, well-connected, and well-established celebrity friends.
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