“Given this review, it’s clear that components of the regulations need to be clarified to help create a better framework for respectful, inclusive and unbiased campaigns,” Academy CEO Bill Kramer said in a statement. , adding that the changes will be implemented after the conclusion of this grant cycle.
While Riseborough’s performance as a struggling alcoholic after winning the lottery in “To Leslie” won critical acclaim, it made little splash on its own, grossing less than $28,000 in its limited theatrical run.
The 41-year-old English actress surprised the public by picking up a Best Actress nomination last week – alongside Ana de Armas, Cate Blanchett, Michelle Williams and Michelle Yeoh – drawing attention to the unusual pressure behind it.
Just as voting for the Oscar nominations began, dozens of prominent actors began sharing praise for the low-budget film and its lead performance on their personal social media accounts. Actress Mary McCormack, the wife of “To Leslie” director Michael Morris, reportedly coordinated many of the efforts, personally encouraging people to watch and share their thoughts online.
Many posts contained similar language, including the now-viral phrase describing “To Leslie” as “a small film with a giant heart.” Gwyneth Paltrow posted a photo on Instagram of herself standing with Demi Moore, Morris and Riseborough, who she said “will win every award there is and all the ones that haven’t been invented yet”. Edward Norton wrote in a rare post that Riseborough gave “the most committed, emotionally profound, physically harrowing performance I’ve seen in a while.” (Although Norton previously said through a rep that he did not post regarding the Oscars.)
Blanchett, herself an Oscar front-runner, even gave Riseborough an exclamation in her Critics Choice Awards speech.
Riseborough has worked steadily over the past two decades, appearing in the Oscar-winning dark comedy “Birdman,” political satire “The Death of Stalin” and several horror films. While actors often praise their counterparts in public arenas, posts about her performance in “To Leslie” spiked noticeably the second week of January — just in time for the Oscar nominations voting period. Actress Frances Fisher went so far as to share several posts about Riseborough, at one point directly addressing the Academy’s acting branch and writing a detailed description of the voting process.
TCM host and Entertainment Weekly awards correspondent Dave Karger said that while he believed the controversy over Riseborough’s nomination was overblown, the Academy “is smart to deal with it and understand how social media is changing the game.” Matthew Belloni, a former editorial director at the Hollywood Reporter who co-founded the media company Puck, called the organization dealing with Oscar campaigns in the social media era “the biggest legacy” of the debacle.
“There’s a whole economy around the Oscars, and it’s all based on the legitimacy of the awards,” Belloni said. “If the awards are tainted by this specter of cronies, it does have an impact on their legitimacy. This is something the Academy should care about.”
Of course, he added, “there’s been friendliness in the Oscars since literally the second year they’ve given it.”
The Academy has become more transparent about its inner workings since the #OscarsSoWhite backlash in 2015, a year after the board of governors announced its goal to double the number of “women and diverse members” in the voting body. Last year, the organization elected president Janet Yang, who was described in a news release at the time as “instrumental in launching and advancing various Academy initiatives on membership recruitment, governance and equity, diversity and inclusion.”
Much of the criticism leveled at Riseborough’s nomination pitted it against Viola Davis (“The Woman King”) and Danielle Deadwyler (“Till”), who were each nominated for major lead awards. Several industry experts argued that while the Academy certainly has a way to go in regards to its recognition of Black talent, it is a separate conversation from the one about Riseborough.
“With all these high-profile awards shows being televised and reported on, even casual movie fans have become conditioned to the [idea] that certain artists at a certain point have earned a spot in the Oscars race,” Karger said. “These are all different voting bodies and different people. Just because one person got three other nominations doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to get the fourth.”
The Oscars use a ranked-choice voting system in which Academy members list award contenders in order of preference. This could allow for narrow margins between those who get a nomination and those who miss out. If the vast majority of voters ranked either Blanchett (“Tár”) or co-frontrunner Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”) as their No. 1 choice for Best Actress, for example, the threshold for one of the remaining three slots would have been pretty low. With a small number of votes making the difference, there is no guarantee that Davis or Deadwyler placed sixth; Riseborough could just as easily have “squeezed out” contenders like Olivia Colman (“Empire of Light”) or Jennifer Lawrence (“Causeway”).
In some ways, Riseborough has become a scapegoat for the Academy’s own failings, suggested Melissa Silverstein, founder of Women and Hollywood, an initiative that advocates for gender diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry. Silverstein described Riseborough as an actress who had “been toiling beneath the surface for decades of the recognition she deserved,” and said it was unfortunate that this situation occurred “in a year with just incredibly extraordinary black women in leading roles .”
In an ideal world, according to Silverstein, there would be room for more actresses to be recognized.
“It’s a multimillion-dollar game,” she said, “and we’re all part of it.”