Ray Richmond: Why the Andrea Riseborough uproar is a terrific thing for the Oscars – and for Andrea Riseborough

So, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided in its infinite wisdom on Tuesday that it wasn’t going to deny Andrea Riseborough her Oscar nomination for Best Actress after all. Yippee! The republic is saved! (Cue “God Bless America.”)

I mean, c’mon. As if the academy were ever seriously considering revoking the nom over…what? The fact that a bunch of Riseborough’s friends, acquaintances, admirers and fellow performers were singing her praises a bit too passionately on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and at unofficial events for her superb performance in “To Leslie,” a microbudget indie flick that took in all of $27,000 at the box office? I rolled up practically that much money selling lemonade in front of my house as a little kid.

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t these social media platforms created to share ideas and opinions and steer like-minded souls toward something (like a film and a performance) that they generally didn’t know existed? To my mind, that isn’t abusing lobbying privileges but doing precisely what you’re supposed to do in calling attention to something you believe worthy of notice and praise.

And yet, the film academy’s CEO Bill Kramer was moved to “review the film’s campaigning tactics” even if it was ultimately determined that “the activity in question does not rise to the level that the film’s nomination should be rescinded.” Well, thank the Lord for that, because the shitstorm that would have created would have made Hurricane Katrina look like a light drizzle.

Thankfully, Riseborough’s nomination remains in place, even if there was an implied threat in the academy’s statement that this sort of grassroots behavior is going to be policed far more rigorously in the future. Use an adjective, go to jail! Do not pass GO, do not collect $200 (or $27,000). Indeed, it’s a portion of the rest of Kramer’s statement on Tuesday that feels excessive and threatening: “We did discover social media and outreach campaigning tactics that caused concern. These tactics are being addressed with the responsible parties directly.”

Oh really? Directly, huh? And what does that look like? Probably something like, “We’re not happy that you didn’t play by the rules of multimillion-dollar For Your Consideration campaigns. What kind of example does it set if you can successfully land an actress a nomination just by going online and asking people to support her? You’re going to hurt the feelings and chances of candidates and studios that have significantly more money but lack the energy and organizational skills to run a muscular lobbying effort. How dare you!”

Yeah, that’ll show ’em.

But seriously, if we’re going to squelch an Academy Award nomination over hyper-enthusiasm, then campaigning itself is pointless. Just release a gag order and swear the outside world to silence.

Evidently, what really irked the academy was the mentioning of other potential category nominees by at least a few of the actors branch members who were stumping for Riseborough. They probably shouldn’t have done that over social media. Fair enough. But how is this different from discussing the races, say, in a large room full of Oscar voters? You really can’t effectively regulate postings any more than you can speech. Besides, I have to believe that this kind of lobbying is as old as the Academy Awards itself. It isn’t the tactics that have changed, only the medium.

On the other hand, any discussion of how shameless people who supported Riseborough were in the way they campaigned misses a larger point, which is this: the Oscars can’t buy this kind of publicity. Suddenly, people who couldn’t have cared less about the Academy Awards were talking about it and debating Riseborough’s nomination for a film they hadn’t even seen yet and perhaps never would. Did she deserve it? Why were they thinking of taking it away? How does a movie that was on absolutely no one’s radar in December become an awards show cause celebre in January? It’s supplied the kind of juice that can attract millions more viewers to ABC in March.

Think about it. Even if I’m not a typical Oscar fan, I’m going to watch to see if they give the trophy to The Little Ingenue That Could. It’s not inside baseball stuff but basic human drama. It’s relatable to the masses. If an actress from a tiny feature no one had ever heard of can get recognized and potentially crowned, anyone can. It’s the story of Cinderella with envelopes. Horatio Alger in a sequined gown. Suddenly, the Oscars has more of a blue collar tint than it did before, and we have the A-list supporters of her campaign and the film academy in tandem to thank.

I personally know 15 people who have told me they now want to watch the Oscars solely to root for Riseborough and see if she can go all the way in beating the system. That’s a powerful lure. Could she win? Unlikely, but then again, so was her nomination. Clearly, anything is possible at this point. She’s currently tied for third at 9/2 in the Gold Derby combined Oscar odds, trailing Cate Blanchett (“TAR”) and Michelle Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”).

But regardless of how things turn out for Riseborough on Oscar night, the uproar and its attendant publicity onslaught is destined to supercharge her  career straightaway. While long a respected, if only marginally known, British-born performer, she’s now the belle of the ball. She’s also forbidden fruit: “Come see the actress whose nomination brought the Oscars to its knees!” Hey, if her supporters can engage in a little hyperbole, so can I.

To be sure, the name recognition generated by all of the noise over the past week-plus is simply golden for Riseborough. This is the equation: Surprise Oscar Nomination + Academy Inquiry x Industry Backlash = Major Hollywood Releases and Paydays Ahead. The best part is that Riseborough is immensely talented and deserving of this big break, unlike so many who unjustly benefit from scandal.

Oscargate didn’t quite rise to the level of impropriety, of course. In point of fact, Riseborough appears mostly to be an unwitting beneficiary here, even if she obviously didn’t dissuade others from lobbying on her behalf. At least she didn’t bad-mouth anyone to land the nomination, even if there remains controversy over her making the cut while women of color like Danielle Deadwyler (for “Till”) and Viola Davis (“The Woman King”) were passed over. Let it be said that Riseborough didn’t personally elbow those other actresses out of the way. She simply profited from a smart, savvy effort engineered by “To Leslie’s” director Michael Morris and his actress wife Mary McCormack.

Anyway, I don’t imagine that Riseborough will be relegated in the near future to films that gross $27,000, or even $27 million, should that be her desire. She’s on her way to cinematic stardom, where she belongs, due in large part to a timely assist from a certain academy CEO. In fact, if I were Riseborough, I’d send Bill Kramer a very nice flower arrangement, stat, along with a card that reads, “Thank you 27,000 times for helping put me so gloriously on the map. You are my everything.”

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