Oscar nomination to be reviewed by Academy

A surprise Oscar nomination scored by British actress Andrea Riseborough has prompted debate in Hollywood. But did the apparently grassroots campaign which championed her break any rules?

Many awards watchers were stunned when Riseborough was nominated for best actress last week for her performance in To Leslie. Not because she was undeserving (quite the opposite), but because of how unusual the nod was for someone who had practically no previous awards season momentum.

A-listers including Gwyneth Paltrow, Edward Norton and Courteney Cox were among those who had tried to drum up support for Riseborough in the dying days of Oscar voting. The Newcastle-born actress plays an alcoholic mother who squanders her lottery winnings in the critically praised but little-known film.

Despite the stars’ efforts ultimately being successful, questions have been raised about how Riseborough’s nomination was achieved, and whether some of those campaigning for her broke any rules.

The Academy Board of Governors has indicated the issue will be part of the agenda at their next meeting on Tuesday (31 January), after the awards body was reportedly inundated with calls and e-mails regarding the actress’s inclusion.

Actors Riz Ahmed and Allison Williams

Actors Riz Ahmed and Allison Williams announced the 2023 Oscar nominations last week
In a statement on Friday, the Academy said their goal was to ensure the awards competition is “conducted in a fair and ethical manner”. The body said it wanted to confirm that “no guidelines were violated” and examine “whether changes to the guidelines may be needed in a new era of social media and digital communication”.

The issue of whether Academy rules were broken by some of those advocating for Riseborough comes down to a few specific posts which not only championed her, but also made reference to her competitors – something which is strictly forbidden.

The Academy’s official rules state that any forms of public communication by anyone directly associated with an eligible film which “attempt to cast a negative or derogatory light on a competing film or achievement” will not be tolerated.

“In particular,” they add, “any tactic that singles out ‘the competition’ by name or title is expressly forbidden”, and punishable by a one-year suspension of membership for first-time offenders.

One since-deleted Instagram post which has particularly been put under the spotlight was published by the official To Leslie account.

It quoted Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times, who wrote: “As much as I admired [Cate] Blanchett’s work in Tár, my favourite performance by a woman this year was delivered by the chameleonlike Andrea Riseborough.”

Cate Blanchett accepts the Best Actress award for “Tar” during the 28th annual Critics Choice Awards in Los Angeles, California,

Some posts contrasted Riseborough with her competitor Cate Blanchett (pictured) – which goes against Academy rules
While there was no wrongdoing on the critic’s part for expressing his opinion, it’s possible there was wrongdoing on the To Leslie campaign’s part for choosing a quote which contrasted Riseborough with Blanchett.

Similarly, actress Frances Fisher, who has appeared in Titanic and Gone In 60 Seconds, was one of those who named fellow best actress contenders such as Blanchett and Michelle Yeoh while posting her support for Riseborough.

(Interestingly, Blanchett herself had praised Riseborough – alongside other fellow actresses – during her acceptance speech at the recent Critics’ Choice Awards.)

These apparent rule breaches could well have been made innocently. It’s unlikely that all Academy members and film PR teams are aware of every single Oscars campaigning rule.

Regardless, it is unlikely – although not impossible – that Riseborough will be disqualified from the best actress race. Oscar nominations have been rescinded before, albeit never in an acting category.

Lobbying is historically one of the most common rule breaches which results in a cancelled nomination. While promoting and advertising yourself or your film is permitted, personally contacting Academy voters by telephone is not.