On Friday, three days after announcing this year’s Oscar nominations, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced it will be conducting a review of its “campaign procedures,” i.e. its rules and regulations.
This review didn’t come out of the blue, of course. People are Angry Online that Andrea Riseborough received a Best Actress nomination for To Leslie, a tiny indie movie that most of them have never seen and barely heard of — a movie, mind you, that features the best work of Riseborough’s career according to most of those who have seen it.
But Riseborough is white, and so her nomination is suspect! Because pundits — including me — suspected that Danielle Deadwyler would be nominated for Till. She was certainly deserving of a nomination, but I can’t say whether Deadwyler deserved it more than Riseborough as I haven’t seen To Leslie… just like a lot of voters probably didn’t see Till. I guess I don’t want to spend 90 minutes with an alcoholic any more than they want to spend 90 minutes with a grieving mother and the deformed corpse of a young Black boy. Neither movie exactly screams Date Night Material.
And that’s the thing that has been lost in the shuffle here. Till may be a good movie, but it faced an uphill battle in simply being seen. It was one of the very last films I watched in 2022, and it was really only at the behest of my For Your Consideration co-hosts Scott Mantz and Perri Nemiroff. When I finally gave in to their pleas, I was pleasantly surprised, and yet not surprised at all, for I was left impressed by Chinonye Chukwu‘s Clemency as well. She’s clearly a talented filmmaker with great sensitivity, and she coaxed a hell of a performance out of Deadwyler. But I probably have more free time on my hands than Academy members with kids and busy shooting schedules. The fact is that it’s simply impossible for voters to watch every movie and performance in contention. Impossible.
Phase 1 is all about fighting to be seen, and the fact is that Riseborough’s grassroots campaign launched at just the right time — a week or two before the start of voting. Was there anything preventing Viola Davis or Danielle Deadwyler from mounting a similar “grassroots” campaign? No, of course not. Instead, Davis benefitted from millions of dollars of FYC ads that studios spent on useless trade publications that don’t have nearly the same influence as they once did. Social media and its influence is the name of the game these days, not some lame critics organization made up of a bunch of people with 2,000 followers, none of whom are actual Academy members.
But let’s get back to the Academy’s statement, which, it seems to me, has only made “the situation” — a white woman being nominated over two Black women — worse. It reads, in full:
It is the Academy’s goal to ensure that the Awards competition is conducted in a fair and ethical manner, and we are committed to ensuring an inclusive awards process.
We are conducting a review of the campaign procedures around this year’s nominees, to ensure that no guidelines were violated, and to inform us whether changes to the guidelines may be needed in a new era of social media and digital communication.
We have confidence in the integrity of our nomination and voting procedures, and support genuine grassroots campaigns for outstanding performances.
OK, thanks for that disaster of a statement. I mean, what is “an inclusive awards process.” Who was excluded from the process here? Were ballots tampered with? Did Andrea Riseborough hold anyone’s kids hostage? I don’t understand. Is the Academy just committed to ensuring “inclusive awards” period? Because I’m not sure how the process was disrupted here. People have figured out how the preferential ballot system works, and yes, if everyone assumes so-and-so is a lock, it’s a lot easier for them to leave so-and-so off their ballot in favor of an underdog like Riseborough.
If To Leslie had starred Taraji P. Henson, would there have been the same uproar? Of course not. And yet the Academy didn’t even have the balls to name Riseborough, even though everyone knows what its statement was in regards to. Seriously, this is the worst, most ill-conceived corporate statement that I’ve seen since Geoff Morell was calling the shots (however briefly) at Disney.
I mean, the Academy says it supports genuine grassroots campaigns… as opposed to what? Ingenuine ones? Who will tell the difference, and how? Since the Academy is so committed to ensuring an “inclusive awards process,” I would love someone over there to define for me what, exactly, that is. Because I’m not sure what was unfair or unethical about Riseborough’s nomination, or why this review is necessary other than the uproar on social media, which Hollywood really needs to stop paying attention to, if only for its own good.
If anything, people should be up in arms, or should I say Armas, about Ana de Armas‘ nomination for Blonde, a movie I couldn’t even get through, though I admire her for taking a big swing as Marilyn Monroe. It’s just funny how no one accused de Armas of “taking” Davis or Deadwyler’s “spot,” as if they had called dibs on it. And speaking of “funny,” how hilarious would it be if it turns out that Olivia Colman (Empire of Light) or Margot Robbie (Babylon) had finished sixth in voting? What might even be truly hilarious? If this “review” had nothing to do with Riseborough and her grassroots campaign, but Netflix’s (multi-million dollar) campaign for de Armas. It’d be a twist worthy of the streamer’s beloved detective, Benoit Blanc.
That we’re even thinking about that now and having this conversation is solely because of the Academy’s statement. It was sent out almost as if it was a noble bid for transparency, except there’s no transparency at all, as the organization is too afraid to mention Riseborough. Talk about an unforced error here by the Academy’s communications team, who shouldn’t have said anything at all, especially since you know, and I know, that there’s no way in hell that they’re going to rescind Riseborough’s nomination, making this whole thing a non-story. It just feels so performative, so very “we’re taking this seriously and looking into it and we’ll get back to you.”
Not only would it be a huge black eye for the Academy to rescind Riseborough’s nomination, embarrassing the actress in the process and punishing her for something she didn’t personally do, but due to the organization’s bylaws, it couldn’t even award Riseborough’s slot to Davis or Deadwyler — the category would simply proceed with one fewer nominee. So if they can’t get “justice,” so to speak, why is Riseborough put on theoretical trial, at least in the eyes of social media?
I believe the Oscars still matter. In fact, I believe it’s the only award show that still matters. But the Academy needs to grow a pair and stop listening to the online discourse, because questions of its legitimacy are literally the last thing it needed, especially when the voting process is legitimate!
Amazing… just another day in Hollyweird, folks!