Oscars body launches probe into voting following shock Best Actress nomination

The appearance of Andrea Riseborough's name on the shortlist has raised a few eyebrows

Andrea Riseborough in a scene from To Leslie. Photo: Momentum Pictures
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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has launched a review of Oscars campaigning days after a small indie film surprised industry-watchers with a shock nomination to Hollywood's most prestigious awards.

To Leslie had taken only $27,000 at the box office when star Andrea Riseborough's name appeared on the shortlist of nominees for Best Actress.

Riseborough, who plays a single mother from Texas struggling with alcoholism, beat out presumed frontrunners Viola Davis (The Woman King) and Danielle Deadwyler (Till).

The film did not receive any nods at the Golden Globes or the Critics' Choice awards, but has since had the backing of some of the most prominent names in Hollywood.

Media newsletter Puck reported on Thursday that the unexpected nomination had sparked questions about whether an aggressive campaign for Riseborough had violated lobbying rules set by the Academy, which organises the Oscars.

Puck reported that the wife of the film director, actress Mary McCormack, and friends had "emailed and called tons of members of the Academy's actors branch, begging them to see the little-watched alcoholic drama and post online about Riseborough's searing performance."

Dozens of A-list stars then "sang her praises and helped win her the coveted nomination," Puck said.

Stars including Edward Norton, Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett — who is also nominated for the Best Actress Oscar — previously voiced their support for Riseborough and her performance.

Movie industry magazine Variety said the Academy had received several calls and emails in the wake of the nomination, and there was a raging debate among moviemakers over whether rules had been broken.

On Friday, the Academy said it would be examining its processes, although it did not mention the film by name.

"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," they said.

"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."

The Oscars are awarded based on the votes of the 9,500 members of the Academy — many of them previous winners.

Academy membership is divided into 17 categories — including actors, directors, producers and costume designers — with each group picking the nominees in their area of expertise.

With about 1,300 members in the actors' section, a nominee in this category needs only more than 200 votes to make the shortlist.

In the months ahead of the Oscars, which this year will be held on March 12, billboards in Los Angeles are plastered with advertisements for films as studios seek to persuade voting members.

There are also a host of parties and events aimed at generating buzz.

Campaigns are often organised by professional companies and generally don't come cheap, so they are usually the preserve of large studios.

But To Leslie was absent from this circuit.

Variety reported Friday that Titanic star Frances Fisher had posted on social media encouraging her fellow Academy members to nominate Riseborough.

"To my fellow actors in The Academy, according to Pete Hammond writing for Deadline, Andrea Riseborough can secure an Oscar nomination if 218 (out of 1,302) actors in the Actors Branch nominated her in first position for Best Actress," she wrote on Instagram, according to Variety.

The 95th Oscars are due to take place on March 12 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

— Additional reporting by AFP and Reuters

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Updated: January 28, 2023, 2:05 PM