(CNN) — Andrea Riseborough may not be a name that sounds like much to the average moviegoer. But chances are your favorite actor from that movie you love so much knows exactly who he is. And they want me to win an Oscar.
It’s, frankly, a strange story, beginning in October with the limited release of a short independent film called To Leslie, which tells of what happens when a single mother wins the lottery and runs out of money. Riseborough stars as the lead, Leslie, in a performance widely praised by critics as one of the best works of her career.
Last week, Riseborough was nominated for a best actress Oscar, her first nomination.
Nominees for the Oscars 2023: see the complete list here
But there are doubts about her nomination, which came after very public pressure from several big Hollywood stars, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Amy Adams. Now, without specifically mentioning Riseborough or To Leslie, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences says it’s looking into this year’s campaign proceedings to make sure no rules have been broken. (Contacting Academy members to promote a film or lobby for an award is prohibited.)
So turn off the lights and put on suspenseful music. Here’s everything you need to know:
To Leslie, critically acclaimed, but not by the general public
Until recently, most Americans had not heard of To Leslie. Premiering at South by South West in March, the film only grossed $27,000 at the box office during its limited release.
This month, that changed when some of the biggest names in cinema endorsed the film. Paltrow praised the film on Instagram, saying that Riseborough should win every award, including “every one yet to be invented.”
Adams arranged for a conversation with Riseborough and director Michael Morris, calling the film an “incredible, incredible cinematic feat.”
Riseborough in “To Leslie.” (Credit: Momentum Pictures/AP)
Kate Winslet, Jennifer Aniston, Edward Norton, and Charlize Theron have also publicly supported the film in various ways, through screenings or moderated discussions.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, other actors have posted almost identical statements of support for the film, calling it a “little movie with a giant heart.” Some have compared it to a copy-paste job.
The Riseborough campaign is not something new
Although a celebrity-endorsed campaign is not strictly a grassroots campaign, the campaign for Riseborough and To Leslie resembles one. Rarely do celebrities endorse a film they don’t star in in this way, making Riseborough’s rapid rise unique.
But it is not the first time that an actor has publicly tried to get an Oscar on his own. A decade ago, actress Melissa Leo staged her own photo shoot and took out her own ads with the tagline “For Her Consideration.” Leo was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the time for her role in 2010’s The Fighter.
“This whole award process, to some degree, is prostitution,” he told The New York Times in 2011. Leo won the award.
Industry observers have pointed out that the solicitation of votes is often done to level the playing field, in this case, to draw attention to a little-known, small-budget film. The difference now lies in social networks, which make this impulse public instead of doing it behind closed doors.
However, not all of the actors have Riseborough’s contacts. Critics of the nominations pointed out that Viola Davis (The Woman King) and Danielle Deadwyler (Till), two black actresses who were considered favorites, were not nominated for the award. (Both films also drew larger audiences at the box office.)
The problem of diversity in the Academy has been debated and analyzed for a long time. And while Riseborough is not to blame for the slights, some have pointed out that the campaign behind her demonstrates just how much of an advantage it is to have famous white friends.
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The investigation of the Academy gives something to talk about
On Friday, the Academy announced a “review of the campaign procedures surrounding this year’s nominees,” according to a statement obtained by CNN.
The Academy did not specifically mention Riseborough or celebrity pressure for her nomination. But many people are connecting those dots.
Christina Ricci, star of the Emmy-nominated series Yellowjackets, called the Academy’s decision to review proceedings “very retrograde” in a since-deleted Instagram post.
“Seems hilarious that the ‘surprise nomination’ (meaning tons of money wasn’t spent to position this actress) for a legitimately brilliant performance is met with an investigation,” he wrote, according to Deadline. “So only movies and actors who can afford to campaign deserve recognition? It seems elitist and exclusive.”
It’s hard to know if Riseborough’s nomination will actually be overturned. There is a precedent: In 2014, composer Bruce Broughton received an Oscar nomination for the title track to Alone Yet Not Alone and was subsequently disqualified for his campaign.
Regardless of celebrity endorsements, Riseborough faces fierce competition in the category, from the likes of Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All at Once) and Cate Blanchett (Tár).
One thing’s for sure: you’re going to need more popcorn.
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Why Doubts Are Raising About Andrea Riseborough’s Oscar Nomination – KESQ