Why Is Andrea Riseborough’s Oscar Nomination Controversial? ‘To Leslie’ Possible Rule Violation Explained

To Leslie or Not To Be Leslie...

by Abhirup Sengupta
Image: Momentum Pictures

Despite being one of the most obscure films of 2022, To Leslie has been amid some serious controversies following the Oscar nomination of the film’s lead, Andrea Riseborough. While the film was practically unheard of since its release on October 7, 2022, the indie drama went off the popularity charts after the Oscar nomination was announced on January 24.

Andrea Riseborough’s “Best Actress” nomination by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sparked a legion of accusations of lobbying for the award by the filmmakers. This resulted in The Academy conducting an official investigation to determine if the film’s aggressive campaign using celebrities had coerced the nomination voters.

What Are The Allegations Against Andrea Riseborough’s Oscar Nomination For ‘To Leslie?’

Since Andrea Riseborough’s nomination was announced, it irked a legion of film enthusiasts online. Additionally, certain members of The Academy seemed shocked by the nomination, which sparked the entire fiasco.

To elaborate, To Leslie, directed by Michael Morris, premiered on March 12, 2022, at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival. Following this, Momentum Pictures officially released the indie film in the United States on October 7. To no one’s surprise, this indie film failed at the box office with around $27,322 in total collection throughout the country. While the box-office failure of such a film with a reported budget of under a million USD is not shocking, this begs the question behind the Oscar nomination.

While it is unclear how the controversy originated, early reports questioned how the film would have made it to The Academy’s radar despite such abysmal box-office numbers. Though films are presented to The Academy and its voters during the Oscar campaigns, paid for by the filmmakers or the studios, To Leslie indulged in utilizing stars to boost the film’s praise.

The Controversial Campaign Of ‘To Leslie’

Director Michael Morris and his wife Mary McCormack are accused of enlisting the help of well-known celebrities in an online campaign, where they endorsed Andrea Riseborough’s performance as Leslie. Riseborough’s manager Jason Weinberg is also accused of being involved in this controversial campaign.

Prior to the Oscar nomination, celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Aniston, Charlize Theron, Amy Adams, Sarah Paulson, Edward Norton, Howard Stern and Courteney Cox showcased their public support for the film. According to The Hollywood Reporter, several celebrities praised the film on social media, while many, like Gwyneth Paltrow, hosted private screenings for To Leslie. Similarly, Kate Winslet held a Q&A session regarding the project. All of this celebrity endorsement was done in hopes to end up on The Academy’s shortlist and to eventually score a nomination, which it succeeded at.

Invitations To Private Event On January 11

Just days before the Oscar nominations were announced, director Michael Morris’ wife, actress Mary McCormack invited multiple individuals from the industry to a private event at their home. The email obtained by Variety read: “Please watch it, and if you respond to it, then join us at a very intimate reception on January 11 at our home…around 5pm. Come have a drink and chat with director Michael Morris, lead actress Andrea Riseborough, and Allison, and me, and fellow actors. We can have only about 25-30 people, so it will be small.”

Though it is not confirmed if any Academy members were invited to the event, the previous screenings and events organized by other celebrities may have put To Leslie on the radar of Academy voters. However, these allegations remain unconfirmed.

The Academy’s Rule For Campaigning

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has a highly detailed rule on how Oscar campaigns should be conducted. This is precisely why studios need to spend millions of dollars in these campaigns to have their films in the Oscar race.

According to The Academy’s rules on “Receptions, Parties, and Other Non-Screening Events,” members should not be invited to nor should they attend any events organized for an ineligible films’ awards consideration. Thus, in terms of technicality, despite the somewhat shady practices of the To Leslie team during its promotion, they did not break any official rules.

What Did The Academy Decide?

Following the probe into the film’s campaign, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) CEO Bill Kramer provided a statement to the press. The statement read:
“The Academy has determined the activity in question does not rise to the level that the film’s nomination should be rescinded.” The statement does continue to say that To Leslie‘s social media tactics were cause for concern and are being brought up with the responsible parties.”

While Andrea Riseborough’s Oscar nomination was not rescinded over technicalities, despite the controversy, much of the online reactions brought up the snubs in the category. While Riseborough received the nomination, some believe deserving actresses like Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler did not receive nominations in the “Best Actress” category for their performances in The Woman King and Till, respectively. This sparked further controversy over the snub of these talented actresses of color, which in turn, fueled further dispute over To Leslie’s nomination.

- This article was updated on February 1st, 2023