Oscars controversy: Academy to investigate nominations ‘campaign’ after surprise Best Actress race

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will investigate “the campaign processes surrounding this year’s Oscar nominees” to ensure no rules were broken.

In a statement released on Friday, the agency said that this research still aims to understand “whether changes to the rules may be necessary in a new era of social networks and digital communication.”

Although no film or nominee is mentioned, industry watchers say the investigation is a response to the biggest surprise of the nominations announced on January 24: Andrea Risebourogh’s presence in the Best Actress race, along with Cate Blanchett (“Tár” ), Michelle. Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere at Once”), Michelle Williams (“The Fabelmans”) and Ana de Armas (“Blonde”).

The consensus was that Blanchett, Yeoh and eventually Williams would be joined by Viola Davis (“The Woman King”) and Danielle Deadwyler (“Justice for Emmett Till”).

No star, but with a respected two-decade career in film, television and theater that includes films such as “Happy-Go-Lucky,” “Birdman,” “Nocturnal Animals” and “The Death of Stalin,” the 41-year-old British actress nominated for playing an alcoholic Texas mother looking for redemption after losing a lottery win in drama “To Leslie,” which earned just over $27,000 at the box office during a brief run last October . year.

Oscar campaigns are nothing new and usually involve the support and significant financial backing of major Hollywood studios, but the one created for Risebourogh was different: an online grassroots movement backed by famous “friends”.

After Risebourogh was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and with no money to invest, actress Mary McCormack, wife of Michael Morris, the film’s director, created a campaign with the help of two advertising agencies that “involved emailing friends asking them to publicly support the film and Riseborough’s performance, including images and hashtags and suggested accounts to tag in social media posts.”

Gwyneth Paltrow, Edward Norton, Jennifer Aniston, Frances Fisher, Susan Sarandon, Amy Adams, Jane Fonda, Sally Field, Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Catherine Keener, Geena Davis, Mira Sorvino, Rosie O’Donnell, Alan Cumming and Zooey Des were among those who publicly praised the film and the actress on social media.

Some of these actors, including Charlize Theron, Courteney Cox, Minnie Driver and Demi Moore, went even further, appearing as hosts of special viewing sessions, while Kate Winslet hosted a virtual “Q&A” with Riseborough. Cate Blanchett herself singled out her colleague in her acceptance speech for Best Actress at the Critics’ Choice Awards.

In its statement, the Academy emphasizes: “We are confident in the integrity of our nomination and voting processes and support genuine grassroots campaigns for outstanding performances.”

Many in the industry expressed admiration and respect for the effort: as noted by the trade press, this popular campaign will be studied for years to come as it has achieved results at a time when film distributors are investing heavily in top companies and strategists to achieve nominations .

However, there are those who see Riseborough’s appointment as a “scandal” that should be investigated for an alleged breach of Academy Rules 10 and 11: “It is expressly forbidden to contact members of the Academy directly and in a manner outside the scope of these rules for promotion of a film or value for consideration for the Academy Awards,” as well as “any tactic that singles out ‘the contest’ by name or title.”

Sources connected to “To Leslie” ensure that no rules were broken at the events they controlled, such as “vote Andrea Riseborough”, and that the aim was always to make the film go unnoticed.

Reacting to the investigation, actress Christina Ricci wrote on social media: “Seems ridiculous that the ‘surprise nomination’ (meaning tons of money wasn’t spent to place this actress) of a legitimately brilliant performance is being investigated. only the movies and the actors who can afford the campaigns that deserve recognition? It seems elitist and exclusive and, frankly, very much the opposite to me.”

Despite the debate, it is noted in analyzes by The Hollywood Reporter and Deadline (the latter with the important headline “much ado about nothing”) that a consensus is forming that there is nothing new in these kinds of campaigns to draw attention to actors . and films, including organizing events, and that the controversy is created because it was not organized by studios and contradicts the narrative pushed by powerful “lobbies” that you have to spend a lot of money and hire companies and experts to get the nominations.

The debate also took on disturbing racial overtones surrounding a movement by famous “white” actresses to support another “white” actress who “kicked” “black” actresses Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler out of the running.

After the nominations, Chinonye Chukwu, director of “Justice for Emmett Till,” wrote that “We live in a world and work in industries that are so aggressively committed to defending whiteness and perpetuating blatant misogyny toward black women.”

For her part, Gina Prince-Bythewood, director of “The Woman King,” chose to link to a Los Angeles Times article and highlight the headline: “It’s not just the Oscars that fail black women. the reward ecosystem.”

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