is it time for the academy to update their rules?

Andrea Riseborough is an up-and-coming actress.  She has already worked with several prominent directors including Mike Leigh (“Happy-Go-Lucky), Alejandro G. Iñárritu (“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”), and David O Russell (“Amsterdam”), and prominent actors including Tom Cruise, Christian Bale, Michael Keaton, and Benedict Cumberbatch.  So, you would think that she would be mentioned at award season.  However, the movies she was in last year were “Amsterdam” (where she had a small role), “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” (another fairly small role with a limited theatrical release before it played on Netflix), and the very small, limited releases “Please Baby Please” and “To Leslie”.  The total worldwide box office of the two limited releases COMBINED made a total of a little over $50 thousand.  So, there wasn’t much money available to promote her during award season.

However, around the end of November 2022 an unusual award campaign for the movie “To Leslie” started.  There were not the usual advertisements in newspapers or big “For Your Consideration” billboards around Los Angeles.  Instead, some prominent actors – including several Academy members – started hosting screenings for the movie including Charlize Theron and Gwyneth Paltrow.  Some screenings were followed by a Q&A where the actors praised Andrea in the movie.  Kate Winslet (who is working with her in the upcoming movie “Lee”) was quoted as saying “You should be up for everything

However – except for the Chicago Film Critics where she got a nomination for best actress and the Critics’ Choice awards where Cate Blanchett gave her a shout out – she wasn’t mentioned at most of the awards that have been given out.  She also didn’t get a nomination for the upcoming SAG (Screen Actors Guild) awards or BAFTA (British Academy) awards.  Most of the predictions for who will get an Academy Award nomination were also not mentioning her.  That was when the award campaign for her seemed to get bigger.  During the time when Academy members were voting on the nominations for the Academy Awards, there were quite a few actors mentioning her on social media and there were more Q&A including one hosted by Amy Adams on the final day that Academy members could submit their votes for who should get nominated.

Still, a lot of people that predicted the Academy Award nominations thought it was too little and too late for her to be nominated…. until she was nominated.  Other actresses who had received nominations for several other awards – notably Danielle Deadwyler who has won or been nominated for almost 50 other awards for her role in the movie “Till” – were missing from the Academy Award nominations but Andrea was nominated.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not blame Andrea Riseborough, the filmmakers of “To Leslie”, or anyone else that helped with the unusual award campaign for her that turned out to be successful.  Just like I don’t blame Stella Liebeck for suing McDonalds when her hot coffee burnt her legs several years ago.  At that time, there was nothing that warned people that the McDonalds coffee was hot enough to burn (although most people would assume that it is) and right now I don’t think there is an Academy Award rule that says that people can’t campaign for a nomination the way that they campaigned for her.  Instead of blaming her, I think that the Academy must address what may be loopholes or unmentioned things in their rules to prevent something similar from happening in the future the same way McDonalds added warnings to their coffee.

The main thing I don’t like about the way her award campaign went is that it creates a precedent.  I’m fairly sure that some actors and other filmmakers are speaking with their managers and agents right now about doing something similar for the award season next year.  If she ends up winning the Academy Award – which some believe she has a chance of winning – I’m sure there will be much more people looking to do something similar next year.  They’ll search for the biggest names they know to promote their movie the same way they promoted “To Leslie” this year. 

There’s already an example of a different big name doing this, although it’s about a past award.  Steven Spielberg was recently quoted as saying that the movie “The Dark Knight” should have received a best picture nomination.  If he had said that while they were voting for the best picture nominations that year, I believe the movie would have received a nomination.

I think if the Academy doesn’t change their rules this year, next year there could be others that go one or two steps further.  For example, maybe a popular actor or a publicist can get a group of fans to send messages about a movie to all the Academy voters on social media.  It’s not only well-known actors that can promote a movie well.  A few hundred posts to Academy voters recommending a movie or a performance in a movie could sway enough voters too.  Then if someone gets into trouble with the Academy next year, they’ll say that nothing happened to the people who did it this year.  The same way people pointed at Roman Polanski when the Academy wanted to expel Bill Cosby a few years ago.

Another thing I don’t like about their award campaign is that some Academy members were actively involved.  Academy members WHO VOTED for the nominations.  Although I’m sure that actors often vote for their favorites – either movies they loved, friends’ movies, or movies that they were involved with – they usually appear impartial when talking to the media about the awards.  I have heard a few stories about Academy members getting reprimanded for saying who they voted for or who they’re going to vote for during media interviews.  Isn’t saying “You should be up for everything” very similar to saying “I’m going to vote for you”?  Right now, they’re several people who will predict who will win the Academy Award (even I will probably write something about that soon) but if more people promote an actor or a movie in the future, it will be closer to THEY KNOW who will win than they predict who will win.

One last thing that puzzles me about this award campaign is that they concentrated only on the Academy Awards.  Winning an Academy Award is great (from what I understand) but there are also other awards that are great.  I wonder why they didn’t try to get her a BAFTA nomination.  She’s British and she was nominated for the BAFTA “Rising Star Award” in 2013 and won a BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress in 2019, but I don’t think the campaign attempted to get her a BAFTA nomination. 

There are some rumors that they concentrated on the Academy Award nomination because they figured out how many votes from Academy members would be needed for her to be nominated.  Maybe there is a lot more votes needed for her to get a BAFTA nomination.  I know there’s hundreds of more people that vote for the SAG awards so there would have to be a lot more votes needed for her to get that nomination.

As I previously mentioned.  I do not think that Andrea Riseborough, the filmmakers of “To Leslie”, or the other people involved with her award campaign should be penalized – unless it’s determined that someone broke an Academy campaign rule – and I definitely don’t think they should remove her nomination.  If people were penalized for exploiting a loophole or outdated rules, then there would be a certain former President of the United States – who still thinks he should be president – who exploited SEVERAL loopholes and missing rules.

It looks like others agree with me because some industry news websites – including the Hollywood Reporter, Deadline Hollywood, and Variety – recently had stories that the campaign didn’t break any rules and there isn’t really any controversy about her nomination.  However, if you read the stories a different way, it could be that they’re saying that because they DON’T want the Academy to investigate the award campaigns.

A couple days ago on Friday Jan 27, the Academy announced that they’re “conducting a review of this year’s nominees to make sure none of them violated the organization’s rules around campaigning.”  Andrea’s name was mentioned, but most people are sure that this is the main reason why they’re “conducting a review”.  I think this is great because I say it is way past time for the Academy to update some of their rules.  Specifically, they need to create rules about promoting a movie/actor/filmmaker on social media since it’s the most popular way to promote anything these days.  When a company wants to make an announcement, it’s usually on social media first.  Even the nominations for the Academy Awards were quickly posted on social media right after they were announced.

While they’re at it – how about adding an Academy rule that ANYONE – I don’t care who they are – who assaults another person during the Academy Awards presentation will be IMMEDIATELY removed from the building.  Especially if it’s on camera during the awards.