When Andrea Riseborough received an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of the titular spiraling alcoholic in To Leslie, it was a massive surprise to many in the entertainment industry.
Some felt that Riseborough’s nomination was unearned, the result of a supposed ‘grass roots’ lobbying campaign helped along by publicity and support from such prominent actresses as Gwenyth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, and Amy Adams.
This flame of resentment was further fanned due to the fact that many in the the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, especially outside of its actor’s branch, had never even heard of the film for which the 41-year-old Brit was being recognized for.
Of course, because this is current year, others still believed that Riseborough’s appearance on the Academy’s shortlist for Best Actress was the result of anti-black racism.
This claim stemmed from the fact that she was nominated for an obscure role while actors Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler failed to secure any such recognition for their respective leading roles as General Nanisca in The Woman King, a film that attempted to rewrite history by depicting the prominent slave trading Agojie and Dahomey peoples into abolitionist heroes, and Mamie Till in Till, which recounted the 1955 racially motivated murder of Emmett Till.
“What does it say that the Black women who did everything the institution asks of them — luxury dinners, private academy screenings, meet-and-greets, splashy television spots and magazine profiles — are ignored when someone who did everything outside of the system is rewarded?” asked LA Times film critic Robert Daniels in light of The Academy’s official nomination announcements.
“Why does the inequality persist?” he pressed. “Maybe voters aren’t making these films a priority on their dense screener pile. Or maybe they’re not understanding the cultural specificity of the work. Even with the changes, the academy is still a majority white organization, after all.”
Writing for Metro, the UK news outlet’s Deputy Entertainment Editor Alicia Adejobi lamented, “Riseborough simply being nominated isn’t the sticking point for me – I haven’t watched To Leslie but assume her performance was Oscar-worthy given the reaction. What I don’t appreciate is it being at the detriment of the inclusion of Black talent when Riseborough’s nomination is quite clearly the result of white privilege – where was this level of campaigning for Davis and Deadwyler from Hollywood’s elite?”
“What I don’t agree with is high-profile actors using their white privilege to sway the voting results, which may have happened in this case with Riseborough as the Academy has launched an investigation,” she said. “If rules were broken, those actors should be held accountable, publicly named and the nominations for best actress revised.”
Expressing her own frustrations at her film’s complete lack of recognition from The Academy, Till director Chinonye Chukwu declared via Instagram, “We live in a world and work in industries that are so aggressively committed to upholding whiteness and perpetuating an unabashed misogyny towards Black women.”
“And yet,” she continued, sharing a photo of herself alongside civil rights activist and journalist Myrlie Louise Evers-Williams. “I am forever in gratitude for the greatest lesson of my life – regardless of any challenges or obstacles, I will always have the power to cultivate my own joy, and it is this joy that will continue to be one of my greatest forms of resistance.”
In light of concerns that Riseborough’s campaign may have violated the organization’s rule against award lobbying, which prohibits “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”, The Academy announced that they would be launching a formal investigation into the matter.
Beginning their work on January 27th, The Academy announced just four days later that they had decided against taking any punitive action against Riseborough for her campaign, as they had “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,” they continued. “These tactics are being addressed with the responsible parties directly.”
To this end, The Academy then explained that though “the purpose of the Academy’s campaign regulations is to ensure a fair and ethical awards process—these are core values of the Academy”, their investigation had made it “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 guild concluded. “The Academy strives to create an environment where votes are based solely on the artistic and technical merits of the eligible films and achievements.”
Meanwhile, The Academy has declined to give any weight to the accusations of racism leveled against them.