Michelle Yeoh on Andrea Riseborough’s Oscar controversy: ‘If it was so easy it could have been done before’

Best Actress nominee Michelle Yeoh said she has faith in the academy’s rules and regulations on Oscar campaigning despite the controversy around Andrea Riseborough’s surprise nomination.

Asked about Riseborough’s inclusion in the Best Actress race following a last-minute push from some of the “To Leslie” stars past collaborators and friends, Yeoh told BBC’s “Today” program, “I don’t know enough to make a comment.” But the “Everything Everywhere All At Once” star quickly added, “I know that the academy has always prided itself on having regulations where we all play by the rules. And if it was so easy it could have been done before. So I think we are ever evolving. We will always keep evolving in how to protect our integrity and I have great faith we will do that.”

Riseborough was considered a longshot to score a Best Actress nomination for the film “To Leslie,” which debuted at last year’s South by Southwest Film Festival and made little noise in the awards race. But with the support of some major names, including Edward Norton, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, and Frances Fisher, all of whom very publicly pushed Riseborough into the conversation while Oscar voting was happening, the English actress seemingly vaulted over presumed nominees like Danielle Deadwyler and Viola Davis when the Oscar nominations were announced last month.

In the wake of Riseborough’s nomination – and public outcry about the tactics used on behalf of her campaign – the academy conducted a short investigation before announcing Riseborough would keep her status as an Oscar nominee.

“Based on concerns that surfaced last week around the ‘To Leslie’ awards campaign, the academy began a review into the film’s campaigning tactics. The academy has determined the activity in question does not rise to the level that the film’s nomination should be rescinded,” academy CEO Bill Kramer said in a statement. “However, we did discover social media and outreach campaigning tactics that caused concern. These tactics are being addressed with the responsible parties directly.”

While Riseborough’s nomination will hold, the debate around how and why she received the recognition has not stopped. This week, “The Woman King” director Gina Prince-Bythewood published a piece about how the academy largely ignored the work of Black women at the 2023 Oscars. She specifically discussed the Best Actress race and how Davis and Deadwyler, both of whom received numerous precursor nominations, including at the BAFTA Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and Critics Choice Awards, failed to rate with academy members.

“My issue with what happened is how people in the industry use their social capital — screenings in their homes, personal calls, personal emails, personal connections, elevated status. People like to say, ‘Well, Viola and Danielle had studios behind them.’ But we just very clearly saw that social capital is more valuable than that,” she wrote. “That type of power is exercised in more casual ways in social circles, where folks are your friends or your acquaintances. There may be diversity on your sets but not in your lives. And Black women in this industry, we don’t have that power. There is no groundswell from privileged people with enormous social capital to get behind Black women. There never has been.”

In her own interview this week, Deadwyler was also asked about the Best Actress race. The “Till” star said of the academy that failed to recognize her work, “We’re talking about people who perhaps chose not to see the film. We’re talking about misogynoir, like it comes in all kinds of ways, whether it’s direct or indirect. It impacts who we are. I think the question is more on people who are living in whiteness, white people’s assessment of the spaces they are privileged by.”

Asked by the BBC specifically about Davis and Deadwyler failing to garner nominations this year, Yeoh said, “I love Viola and Danielle Deadwyler to the extreme. I wish honestly that we were all just getting the Oscars. It’s tough, it’s tough to be pitched against each other. It took me 40 years to get even a nomination. Everyone, every single actor, actress, and filmmaker, pours their heart and soul into the movies, the stories they want to tell. I don’t think we started the journey thinking, this is what we’re aiming for. The stories that we want to tell are much more important than that.”

Pressed, however, if she wanted to do away with the Academy Awards, Yeoh said that wasn’t the case at all. “I want every one of us to get the Oscars. I want the Oscars,” she said. “It’s a validation from your peers to say we see you, we recognize you. It’s taken so long to be seen and recognized.”

Yeoh, who would become the first woman of Asian descent to win Best Actress, added, “It’s not even just about me, it’s a validation for people who look like me, to be there, to be part of this group.”

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