Surprise Oscar Nod Leads To Investigation, Criticism Of No Black Best Actress Nomination

“The greatest female performance onscreen I have ever seen in my life.”

Andrea Riseborough
Jason Mendez/Getty Images

Actress Andrea Riseborough’s surprise best actress nomination for her brilliant performance in the little-seen film “To Leslie,” which meant that the category had no black actresses, triggered an investigation by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and condemnation from a black film critic.

“To Leslie” earned a paltry $27,000 when it was released in October, but many Hollywood stars who saw the film praised Riseborough’s work, including Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow, Amy Adams, and Kate Winslet, with the latter calling the performance “the greatest female performance onscreen I have ever seen in my life.” But some black critics expressed their fury that performances by black actresses did not receive a best actress nod.

“What does it say that the Black women who did everything the institution asks of them — luxury dinners, private academy screenings, meet-and-greets, splashy television spots and magazine profiles — are ignored when someone who did everything outside of the system is rewarded?” film critic Robert Daniels wrote in the Los Angeles Times.

“We live in a world and work in industries that are so aggressively committed to upholding whiteness and perpetuating an unabashed misogyny towards Black women,” Nigerian-American director Chinonye Chukwu wrote after the nominations were announced,

Meanwhile, the Academy launched an investigation into whether a campaign for Riseborough’s nomination broke any of the Academy’s rules. The Academy scrutinized the efforts of actress Mary McCormack, who is married to “To Leslie” director Michael Morris, and her manager, Jason Weinberg, who represents Riseborough, to elicit support from Hollywood friends to push the film.

Additionally, actress Frances Fisher consistently praised the film, suggesting people vote for Riseborough’s nomination since “Viola, Michelle, Danielle & Cate are a lock for their outstanding work.”

Actress Christina Ricci slammed the investigation, writing in a later-deleted post, “Seems hilarious that the ‘surprise nomination’ (meaning tons of money wasn’t spent to position this actress) of a legitimately brilliant performance is being met with an investigation. So it’s only the films and actors that can afford the campaigns that deserve recognition? Feels elitist and exclusive and frankly very backward to me.”

But on Tuesday, the Academy announced it would not rescind Riseborough’s nomination. “The academy has determined the activity in question does not rise to the level that the film’s nomination should be rescinded,” Chief Executive Officer Bill Kramer declared. “However, we did discover social media and outreach campaigning tactics that caused concern. These tactics are being addressed with the responsible parties directly.”

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