We’ve written a couple of times about Andrea Riseborough’s now successful grassroots campaign to get a Best Actress Oscar nomination, and the issue across the Internet has been surprisingly polarizing. Having read a lot of the commentary on both sides, I understand why.
On the one hand, you have Riseborough’s obscure indie film made for less than $1 million that even the studio behind it basically ignored. I’ve seen To Leslie. Riseborough is fantastic, and I’ve heard Marc Maron (who co-starred in the film) express some resentment toward the studio behind it, Momentum Pictures, for abandoning the film. I’ll be the first to admit: The only reason I saw it is because of the attention generated by the grassroots campaign (also, because Maron has talked about it a few times). Before the nominations were announced, I was even rooting for Riseborough, although I clearly forgot about how much affection the Academy has for white women crying.
Indeed, in the normal course of events, I’m rooting for the performance in the underdog indie film with no budget and no promotion every damn time. This is not the normal course of events, however, because Riseborough was up for a nomination in a category where exactly one Black woman has won an Oscar, and that win was for Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball 20 years ago.
To put it another way: If Riseborough’s nomination had pushed out Michelle Williams’ performance in The Fabelmans, we wouldn’t be having this debate. But Viola Davis (The Woman King) and Danielle Deadwyler (Till) had been racking up nominations in the other awards ceremonies, so it follows that Riseborough — who had received only one nomination all awards season (from the Independent Spirit Awards) — took a nomination that almost certainly would have gone to Davis or Deadwyler.
Should we be mad at Riseborough? I don’t think so. She was advocating for herself when no one else was, including her own studio! Should we be mad at actress Mary McCormack for launching this grassroots campaign on behalf of her husband, Michael Morris? She was supporting her husband, so I don’t know how anyone can be too angry with that (and I also don’t know why people keep bringing up the affair that Morris had with Katherine McPhee a decade ago, as though personal issues in their marriage 10 years ago had anything to do with this).
Should we be blaming actress Frances Fisher? Well, um, actually: Maybe.
Academy rules state, per Puck, that “film companies may not send a member more than one email and one hardcopy mailing per Monday through Sunday seven-day period for each film the company represents.” The rule was essentially designed to prevent folks from harassing Academy voters so that the Academy maintains the integrity the Golden Globes has not. The emails are also supposed to go through certain channels (an Academy-managed e-blast system). McCormack violated the sh*t out of this rule, but again: She was competing against multimillion-dollar campaigns from studios. Surely, a few emails do not outweigh huge, splashy adverts in the trades.
But here’s where it gets sticky: Actress Frances Fisher was telling folks on social media that Davis and Deadwyler were “locks,” and so they should vote for Riseborough. That’s not OK! It’s the Oscars! If Viola Davis isn’t a lock, no one is, and she is certainly not a lock in a category where only one Black actress has won. Ever. Besides, the rules specifically state that one may not use “any tactic that singles out ‘the competition’ by name or titles.” In an Instagram post, Fisher singled out Davis and Deadwyler, and she was wrong. She also lied when she said that Richard Roeper called her performance the 5th best of the year (he said To Leslie was the fifth best movie of the year.”
In terms of rule-breaking, Frances Fisher pulled some shady shit. Was it decisive? Who knows, but that doesn’t make it OK. Rules exist for a reason, and while that reason is usually to protect the ruling class, in this case, the rules should have prevented a campaigner from specifically lobbying against two Black actresses on behalf of one white actress.
I don’t know what the Academy does about this mess, but rules are rules, and Frances Fisher — if not McCormick — should surely face some consequences.