English actress Andrea Riseborough has been nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award for her role in Michael Morris’ independent film, To Leslie. But many had never heard of the film until they found out it was in the running for an Oscar. Although To Leslie and Riseborough’s portrayal of the titular character received high praise from critics, its nomination has raised some questions. Later on Friday, the Academy announced it will be conducting a review of the campaign procedures, but did not name Riseborough.
The film rose to popularity after huge stars like Gwyneth Paltrow, Amy Adams, Susan Sarandon, Courteney Cox, Kate Winslet and Jennifer Aniston began publicly praising and supporting the film. This very evident push for the film rubbed many the wrong way and felt like a way to influence the Academy’s votes.
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However, others believe that the criticism is unfair. Small-budget films with huge potential would go completely unnoticed if they did not market themselves through whatever means are at their disposal. A celebrity-backed campaign to get one’s film into the limelight is not unheard of. There have been instances in the past where actors have attempted to solicit votes for an Oscar nomination and subsequent win. Melissa Leo put together an advertisement photoshoot to urge the Academy to consider her for an Oscar for her film The Fighter in 2011, which had previously won a Critics Choice award and a Golden Globe. Studios that can afford it put a lot of money into promoting their films and influencing voters, so why shouldn’t a smaller film make the best of its resources?
The argument seems perfectly valid, however, it does not make a very compelling case for levelling the playing field. Thousands of other indie films made throughout the year, whose directors and actors do not have the celebrity contacts and resources that To Leslie’s team does, still stand at a disadvantage.
Moreover, some have raised the issue of the Academy Awards snubbing black actors yet again. The Academy did not consider Viola Davis for The Woman King, or Danielle Deadwyler for Till, despite both films receiving critical acclaim and audience appreciation. Riseborough’s surprise nomination thus comes at a controversial time.