In a series called Mondo Bullshittio, let’s talk about some of the most glaring hypocrisies and faux pas in pop culture… and all that it affects.
Well before the Oscar nominations were officially announced, there were “whisperings” of the “suspect” campaign that seemed to come out of nowhere with regard to well-known members of the Hollywood elite touting the performance of Andrea Riseborough in To Leslie. That “campaign” (which cost literally nothing next to the monetary amount required for the ad space most other people espousing a film for Academy Award consideration “have to” plunk down) consisted essentially of director Michael Morris and his wife, Mary McCormack, rallying fellow celebrities to watch the movie and tout it on their social media accounts if they liked it. Harmless enough, right? Especially compared to how other nominations have been secured in the past (that is, with gobs and gobs of money and quid pro quo antics). Not to the “scandalized” Academy. No, they felt that Riseborough’s nomination was so suspicious and rife with dubious motivations that they decided to launch an inquiry into it. After all, it has been branded as “one of the most shocking nominations in Oscar history.” How could they not humor those outraged by the decision with the pageantry of an “investigation”?
And yet, had the Academy been investigating a slew of other nominations, they might have found far more muck to rake. Regardless, all of the sudden, Academy members and vested award participants were extremely interested in the importance of adhering to a document entitled “Regulations Concerning the Promotion of Films Eligible for the Academy Awards.” In it, there’s a section called, “c. Mailings may not include.” Under the first article in that umbrella is: “Personal signature, personal regards, or pleas to watch the film.” Although actors and actresses (including Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Charlize Theron, Sarah Paulson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Demi Moore, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Jane Fonda, Mia Farrow, Mira Sorvino, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michelle Monaghan, Laura Dern and Kim Basinger) extolling the virtues of Riseborough’s performance weren’t doing so in any “mailings,” apparently their gushing fervor expressed in a public space (mainly Twitter and Instagram) was enough to loosen the meaning of the word. Hence the Academy responding to the fury, complete with accusations of a CAA-fueled conspiracy afoot as many of the actors praising Riseborough’s performance are repped by that agency. Of course, Riseborough, too, is also represented by said agency. Cue more infuriated cries of, “J’accuse!”
Talk of Riseborough’s manager, Jason Weinberg, being the main catalyst behind getting Riseborough and Morris’ “little film” so much traction was corroborated by the likes of Jeremy O. Harris, who stated in January, “This man did a group chat Oscar campaign for a client he has seen work her ass off for years with little to [no] recognition who gave a daring performance in a small picture and it worked. This should be studied.” But director Morris himself was to thank for securing Charlize Theron (who Riseborough, as Leslie, is channeling a bit…namely, when Theron played Aileen Wuornos in Monster) to introduce the movie at a November screening where she proselytized the film’s greatness. And that’s what truly upped the momentum for the little indie performance that could. By the end of November ’22, Riseborough had secured an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Lead Performance.
This wasn’t enough to sway the voters behind the nominations for the Golden Globe Awards or the Critics Choice Awards, but nothing could stop the momentum by this point, as Morris phoned in another friend in Gwyneth Paltrow, who trumpeted Riseborough’s brilliance in early January, insisting that Riseborough ought to win “every award there is and all the ones that haven’t been invented yet.” The SAG Awards nominations subsequently tend to disagree. But by mid-January, it doesn’t matter. The unofficial campaign for the movie has spread to Alan Cumming—and everyone knows the gays give good word of mouth. And that, to boot, when a gay man has praised a dramatic performance, it’s all but assured a following.
The real problem, though? The push for Riseborough, in many people’s eyes, is a detriment and cloak of invisibility to Viola Davis. Specifically for her performance in The Woman King. And when Riseborough seemingly did “oust” Davis, taking “her place” among Best Actress Academy Award nominees Michelle Williams, Cate Blanchett, Ana de Armas (what the fuck—it’s even more insulting because Marilyn herself was never nominated for an Oscar) and Michelle Yeoh, the backlash veered into full-on “Beyoncé should have won Album of the Year” territory. Except, in this case, it’s a white lady instead of a white man and the performance is actually pretty fire instead of fairly forgettable. Nonetheless, the director of The Woman King, Gina Prince-Bythewood, was certain to announce that “the Academy made a very loud statement [in shutting out Davis] and for me to stay quiet is to accept that statement.” Many were of the same belief regarding not just the lack of Black female representation in the category, but the fact that Riseborough appeared to be getting the Oscar campaign equivalent of nepo baby treatment. With so many influential people advocating her performance, it somehow made the masses actually focus less on that, and more on how white folks are effortlessly guided into a Cinderella story at every turn.
Appropriately, To Leslie itself is a kind of fairy tale. Or rather, a “semi-realistic” one. A story of an underdog who manages to pull herself up out of a very deep hole against all the odds. But, just as Riseborough, she has quite a bit of help to achieve that feat. Does that make her achievement less valid? It depends, of course, on who you ask. But there’s no denying that the real reason the Academy bothered to launch an inquiry at all was a result of the #OscarsSoWhite-oriented heat they were getting for Viola Davis’ absence, not to mention Danielle Deadwyler’s for her performance in Till. It was ultimately this politically incorrect faux pas that really spurred the organization’s investigation into the “tactics” used to secure the nomination. Barely a week later, as everyone expected (because everyone knew it was bullshit to call the kettle black on any “untoward” methods for lobbying for a movie or its lead actors), the CEO of the Academy, Bill Kramer, confirmed that Riseborough’s nomination would stand.
Alas, by loosely pinning a “lobbying scandal” on Riseborough (because that’s whose name comes to mind above everybody else’s when all is said and done), the Academy can continue to avoid any true responsibility for its own actions. Or rather, what Prince-Bythewood might call its “loud” nomination choices. All while Riseborough somehow ends up being painted as the “bad guy” and the “overrated actress” of the scenario. And so, all this pomp and circumstance turns out to be more of a bane than a blessing for Riseborough and her talent in the end. Especially if she actually ends up winning.