Bright and early in the morning on January 24, 2023, as Riz Ahmed and Alison Williams were nominated for the Oscars for Best Actress, the results were more or less as expected. Cate Blanchett for it uncle. For Michelle Williams Fableman. Ana de Armas for gold – The Academy loves the portrait of a real person. For Michelle Yeoh Everything everywhere at once. And Andrea Riseborough, for… To Leslie?
Most people who had heard of the film knew about it because of a strange grassroots campaign that seemed to appear out of nowhere a week or two ago, when everyone from Charlize Theron to Howard Stern seemed to be on Started posting about the movie on Twitter. Little Andy opened in October in a handful of theaters to critical acclaim but relatively few fans. Suddenly, if you follow a lot of celebrities, praise for Riseborough’s performance was everywhere.
On the morning of the Oscar nominations, it turns out that was enough to get Riseborough on board. Some reviewers complained, considering that previous preferences for the slot – Daniel Deadweller in until And Viola Davis in it woman king – seems to have been overridden by support.
We have no way of knowing if this is true, but it doesn’t seem impossible, as both Dead Wyler and Davis have had massive support in various groups and critics’ awards over the past few months. Nevertheless, the Academy announced that it would launch an investigation into Rysburgh’s campaign tactics to see if they violated Oscar rules. On January 31, they announced that Riseborough would retain his candidacy but that “tactics” would be “directly addressed to the parties responsible.”
And these tidbits about Dacey’s tactics are a bit surprising, if you know anything about how Oscar winners are made.
Let’s go back up. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—an industry group made up entirely of people who work in the industry (but no journalists or critics)—gives the Oscars, and the group consists of separate “branches.” has been There is a section for cinematographers, another for writers, another for directors, and so on. Each department votes for candidates in its discipline, ultimately selecting five candidates. The exception is the Best Picture, which has 10 candidate slots and is voted on by the entire membership, which numbers around 10,000. After the nominees are announced, everyone votes in each category.
The idea here is great: you know your craft, so you’re better off picking five options that the wider membership will choose the winner. Simple, right?
The Oscars have never been simpler for many reasons. The American film industry is mostly based in Los Angeles, which is the company’s hometown. This means that everyone knows everyone – not only knows, but marries, divorces, drinks with, sees and hears rumors at bake sales, hiring and burning. Of course, there are many exceptions, but it’s like picking winners among your extended family. No wonder the whole thing can feel like a popularity contest.
Another doubt is that the prospect of choosing “best” art is downright ridiculous. Some things are better than others, of course. But taste is inherently subjective – what I like you might hate – and when you’re dealing with the technical level of most movies, the judgment of “best” comes down to taste. The never-ending awards season has its reasons for being; Being recognized for a job can go a long way towards building a career. But the myth that a group can vote to choose something better, is silly, laughable.
But the real issue with the Oscar picks is simply that they’re not art competitions at all. They are political contests. I don’t mean that they are “political,” although the long, long history of Hollywood is one of Washington and Hollywood interfering in each other’s business. (Anyone who says movies were better when they were “less political” has Hollywood made up in their head that bears no resemblance to the original.)
I mean, campaigning for the Oscars is almost like campaigning for president — except it happens every year, and there’s less, admittedly, at stake, even though it might not feel that way to the candidates. It’s so true that when I wrote about it a few years ago, I noticed that political consultants were just as knowledgeable about the process as award strategists (and even more open about it).
Yet there is a big difference. When you’re running for president, all bets are off. You can constantly knock on doors, call and text and email constituents, and openly ask for their vote. In American politics, it’s perfectly fine to be a candidate who walks up to someone on the street, hands them a flier, and says, “I’m Alyssa Wilkinson, I’m running for president.” And I’m asking for your vote.”
But there is a strange controversy surrounding such bold displays of campaigning in the academy—if anyone cares. Andrea Riseborough doesn’t seem to be knocking on doors personally, though To Leslie Actress Mary McCormick, wife of director Michael Morris, is reportedly hitting the bushes on her behalf. Dole reported that she sent an email to friends at the Academy asking them to “post every day between now and January 17” — the last day for Oscar nominations. It was a low-budget campaign for a low-budget film, but it may have violated the Academy’s injunction against direct campaigning. Reportedly, she also held a small gathering at her home (something the Academy does not allow, in certain parameters, without screening).
What’s odd, as many have pointed out — like Riseborough co-star Marc Maron and actress Christina Ricci — is that while most films don’t have such an extensive campaign (or at least, not one that we know of ), there are many. The campaign is ongoing. As I wrote:
The bottom line is, no matter what narrative your film is part of, you have to make sure the Academy members will see your film, relate to its story, and remember it come voting time. The more opportunities there are to do this, the better. And so during Oscar season, there are screenings with cocktails and Q&As. There is bread. And breakfasts, and lunches, and teas, and cocktail receptions hosted by celebrities and influencers.
Stars and Oscar hopefuls show up for meet-and-greets and make surprise appearances at screenings. They appear on podcasts and do video tours and make the rounds on late-night comedy shows, and more.
(Perhaps most interestingly, today’s template for campaigns that cost millions of dollars and use sometimes dirty tactics was created, more or less single-handedly, by none other than Harvey Weinstein.)
Ultimately, the question is whether a film that blatantly violates campaign rules should be punished, allowing the Academy to perpetuate the myth that more expensive campaigns with less obvious (but still clear) tactics should to continue
And all of this points to what seems to me like a big issue. The US presidential election system is hopelessly mediated and increasingly forgotten. The period of hype and fear begins years before the actual election, as if it were a live sporting event, not a fair civil ceremony designed to produce justice and fairness.
The Oscars are actually a live show, and if you think it’s about justice and fairness, you might as well buy the bridge I’m down in Brooklyn. But the Oscar cycle has a negative impact on films regardless. As I wrote, the hype cycle, the never-ending “Will it win an Oscar?” In response to the question, the informal campaign begins about a month after the Oscars and continues throughout the year. By the time of the Autumn Festival in September, the “preliminaries” have all been established, making it difficult to break any surprises. The question of whether a film is “Oscar-worthy” can subvert the film itself, making it difficult to talk about it as a work of art. It’s all about its awards potential, and movies are floating in the ocean.
If the Academy clamps down on all campaign activities — not just the underground campaigns that are a little too visible for its taste — it may not solve the problem. But it can also serve to level the playing field, allowing more films to enter the conversation and be seen by even more people. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt the movie business a bit to win an award – but wouldn’t it be worth a try?