First, there was the word-of-mouth campaign promoting Andrea Riseborough’s performance in the indie film To Leslie. Then, came Riseborough’s surprising Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Then, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) announced a review of the nomination process, which could have resulted in a revoked nomination for Riseborough. Well, after all that hullabaloo, the results are in: Riseborough remains an Oscar nominee.
An underdog in award season, To Leslie is a lesser-known drama that made $27,000 in theaters and did not have a competitive budget for a For Your Consideration campaign. Riseborough’s nomination came after a week-long social media blitz, in which her performance was lauded by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Edward Norton, Charlize Theron, and many more.
To Leslie’s approach to securing an Oscar nomination ruffled feathers, but there’s more to the controversy than annoyance at a grassroots campaign. Riseborough, who is white, received a nomination over Black actors like The Woman King‘s Viola Davis and Till‘s Danielle Deadwyler, both of whom were considered contenders in the Oscars conversation. While some have viewed To Leslie’s nomination as a victory for small-budget films, others have pointed that even high-profile films with more resources for an awards campaign might be snubbed because of how the awards ecosystem fails Black women time and time again.
On Jan. 27, in the wake of the nominations backlash, the Academy announced it would be reviewing the nomination process. Their statement mentioned neither Riseborough nor To Leslie. However, given the controversial nature of Riseborough’s campaign, it seemed clear the review concerned her nomination.
The review garnered even more backlash, with actors like Christina Ricci sharing on social media that it felt « elitist and exclusive and frankly very backward. » Comedian (and Riseborough’s To Leslie co-star) Marc Maron also criticized the Academy’s decision on his WTF podcast.
The Academy’s decision came down in a Jan. 31 statement sent to media from AMPAS CEO Bill Kramer, who said: « The Academy has determined the activity in question does not rise to the level that the film’s nomination should be rescinded. » The statement does continue to say that To Leslie‘s social media tactics were cause for concern and are being brought up with the responsible parties.
Kramer’s full statement on the matter is as follows:
Based on concerns that surfaced last week around the To Leslie awards campaign, the Academy began a review into the film’s campaigning tactics. The Academy has determined the activity in question does not rise to the level that the film’s nomination should be rescinded. However, we did discover social media and outreach campaigning tactics that caused concern. These tactics are being addressed with the responsible parties directly.
The purpose of the Academy’s campaign regulations is to ensure a fair and ethical awards process—these are core values of the Academy. Given this review, it is apparent that components of the regulations must be clarified to help create a better framework for respectful, inclusive, and unbiased campaigning. These changes will be made after this awards cycle and will be shared with our membership. The Academy strives to create an environment where votes are based solely on the artistic and technical merits of the eligible films and achievements.
Thus ends the contentious To Leslie saga — at least until the Oscars air on March 12. If Riseborough pulls off an underdog victory, it will no doubt be one of the most surprising (and yes, discourse-inducing) Oscar wins of all time.