Nothing — not Tom Cruise’s snub nor Austin Butler’s lingering Elvis Presley inflections — has made quite as much a stir around this year’s Oscars as the best-actress nomination for British actress Andrea Riseborough.
Riseborough was unexpectedly nominated for her performance as an alcoholic Texas single mother in the scantly viewed indie film “To Leslie,” a decision that startled Oscar analysts and has since attracted criticism from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. For a movie that has grossed $27,322 at the box office, “To Leslie” and Riseborough has made a lot of noise.
At issue is the way Riseborough’s candidature was promoted. Riseborough climbed the Oscar ranks thanks mainly to the grassroots efforts of “To Leslie” director Michael Morris and his wife, actor Mary McCormack. At the same time, many other award nominees are supported by coordinated campaigns paid for by their film’s studio.
Their plea was for celebrities to watch the film and either host a screening or publicly applaud Riseborough for her role. And a whole bunch of them did. So what’s the big deal? The prevalence of cronyism in the entertainment industry is hardly shocking.
But Riseborough’s nomination — and the passionate response it’s provoked — has interrupted this year’s Oscar season, with potential ramifications for the Academy Awards in March and the bids of all future Oscar aspirants.
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Who Is Andrea Riseborough?
The 41-year-old Riseborough has been a mainstay in the film, TV, and London theatre industries for 15 years. Yet, she can be difficult to place due to her ability to transform into virtually any role. She appeared in Mike Leigh’s “Happy-Go-Lucky” (2008). She made an impression as Riggan’s girlfriend in “Birdman” (2014).
She played Stalin’s daughter in “The Death of Stalin” (2017). (2017). She co-starred in the 2018 film “Mandy” with Nicolas Cage, in which she portrayed the role of the kidnapped girlfriend of Cage’s character. Along with her role as Mrs. Wormwood in “Matilda the Musical,” Riseborough’s 2022 resume included David O. Russell’s “Amsterdam.” Because of her long history of critical praise in risky indie films, her modest body of work may have contributed to her Oscar nomination.
Andrea Riseborough’s Oscar Nomination
Almost no one predicted that Riseborough’s unexpected campaign would result in her being nominated. Nonetheless, it wasn’t wholly unexpected. Independent Spirit Award voters considered Riseborough for her role in “To Leslie.” However, she was not anticipated to contend in what was thought to be the most competitive field this year.
Among the other nominees were Cate Blanchett (for Tar), Michelle Williams (for The Fabelmans), Ana de Armas (for Blonde), and Michelle Yeoh (for Everything, Everywhere, All at Once). Riseborough exclaimed to Deadline, “I’m stunned” after the nominees were announced. The fact that we weren’t even considered for anything else made it hard to imagine that this might happen.
— Ben Frazier (@FrazierBen) January 31, 2023
The possibility of success still looked remote, despite the widespread backing we enjoyed. In particular, Viola Davis’s turn in “The Woman King” and Danielle Deadwyler’s in “Till” were overlooked despite widespread acclaim. The two most prominent women in this category who were overlooked have been a topic of conversation.
In an Instagram post, “Till” filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu implied that the system was broken. “We live in a culture and work in sectors that are so actively committed to defending whiteness and perpetuating an unashamed misogyny against Black women.”
What Made Riseborough’s Campaign Different?
Almost every acting nominee participates in some Oscar campaign to spotlight their performance and convince voters to view their film. It’s a game that’s played. The playwright and screenwriter Jeremy O. Harris commented on Twitter: “Do people not comprehend that what the actresses did for Andrea Riseborough happens in secret every night for months starting in October for every movie/performance (with) a chance.”
Some laws govern the kinds of activities hosted and how much someone can email promotions to academy members during the voting session. Usually, a lot of money and seasoned campaign strategists are behind a successful political effort.
Those pushing Riseborough, nevertheless, managed to draw attention to her without such backing. To get the word out, they banked on famous people. Screenings for the film were hosted by Kate Winslet, Charlize Theron, Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Amy Adams, and Courteney Cox. In an online Q&A, Winslet told her, “You should be winning everything.”
Edward Norton, Susan Sarandon, Mira Sorvino, and Rosie O’Donnell are just a few celebrities who have tweeted their admiration for her. Supporters of Riseborough thought her unconventional campaign strategy—no billboards on Sunset, no “For Your Consideration” advertising, just a vast Rolodex—would be a game changer in terms of how the Academy Awards are typically handled.
Actress Christina Ricci reacted to the controversy to her nomination of Andrea Riseborough by writing, “So it’s only the films and actors that can afford the campaigns that deserve recognition?” It strikes me as quite retrograde, aristocratic, and exclusive.