Andrea Riseborough’s ‘grassroots’ Oscar campaign likely violated AMPAS’s rules

People are still stuck on this year’s Oscar snubs, specifically in the Best Actress race. Viola Davis not getting nominated for The Woman King is a very big deal, and people are also pretty upset about Danielle Deadwyler’s snub for Till. Instead of placing the blame where it belongs – on Ana de Armas’s nomination for Blonde – there’s a huge focus on Andrea Riseborough’s surprise nomination for To Leslie. After the nominations were announced, the trade papers did some breakdowns of just what was happening behind the scenes in the final weeks of voting, with producer Mary McCormack using her connections to convince big-name Academy voters (mostly white actresses) to screen To Leslie and tweet about Andrea’s performance. Now Puck reports that McCormack’s Oscar-campaigning on behalf of the film might have been in violation of a lot of Academy rules, and there’s an investigation into the whole sordid mess. Some highlights from Puck:

Riseborough’s shock nom has created a brewing shitstorm within the Academy because Riseborough seemingly pushed out Viola Davis (The Woman King) and Danielle Deadwyler (Till), two actresses of color that were backed by well-funded campaigns by Sony and MGM/Amazon, respectively, and were widely predicted to score honors, yet presumably do not have access to a network of powerful (and, let’s be honest, white) friends in the Academy to campaign for Oscars on their behalf. To some, it was the worst kind of racially-tinged cronyism, where the connections outshined the work. The controversy raises a key question: Did the Riseborough effort violate Oscar campaign rules? I’m told the Academy is looking at this issue, and that it will likely be raised at the board of governors meeting on Tuesday. (The organization declined to comment.)

Thanks to past scandals and sleazy tacticians like Harvey Weinstein, the Academy actually has pretty strict rules for what’s kosher during an Oscar campaign, including specific guidelines for screenings, receptions, and what can be mailed or emailed to members. My favorite is the requirement of “non-excessive food and beverage” at screening events (i.e.; the don’t-get-them-drunk-and-fat rule, which is routinely stretched). But in this case I’m specifically looking at Rule 10, which concerns “Lobbying”: — Contacting Academy members directly and in a manner outside of the scope of these rules to promote a film or achievement for Academy Award consideration is expressly forbidden.

So, how much contact is “lobbying”? Lots of contenders skirt this rule with casual contacts or invites to screenings and such. But McCormack, the mastermind of the effort along with her and Riseborough’s manager Jason Weinberg, was relentless in soliciting support, and she did so arguably at the direction of the To Leslie campaign. Here’s a quote from an email of hers that’s going around: “If you’re willing to post every day between now and Jan 17th, that would be amazing! But anything is helpful, so please do whatever makes you comfortable. And what’s more comfortable than posting about a movie every day!”

…If emailing 70 members is disqualifying, how many members did McCormack and friends contact with their very specific pleas on behalf of To Leslie? And it was a campaign, of course. Riseborough, in interviews, has emphasized the lack of money because the film’s distributor, Momentum Pictures, didn’t do much to support the film. ”It really has been baffling,” she told EW of the nomination. “The idea that you need endless resources, I don’t think that’s necessarily true,” she added to Variety.

But there were events, screenings and Q&A panels. Two P.R. firms, Narrative and Shelter, worked on the campaign, and Scott Feinberg reported Tuesday that top event planners Andrew Saffir and Colleen Camp were hired for receptions. Those things can cost $50,000 or more a pop. Someone paid for this stuff.

[From Puck]

There’s a lot more in the report but you get the idea. One of the biggest questions will be how aggressively McCormack and the various PR teams pursued Academy voters, how many times voters were emailed, and what kind of material and financial support was provided for this “grassroots” campaign. There are even more specific questions about whether prominent white actresses were provided photos, quotes and specific wordings to show their “support” for Riseborough and To Leslie. It actually is looking like… there were some violations of the Academy’s rules. The Academy will not punish Riseborough this year though, meaning she still gets her nomination and she gets to enjoy all of the perks of being a nominee. But it might affect her ability to “campaign” in the future, same with Mary McCormack.

Photos courtesy of Backgrid, screencap from ‘To Leslie’.

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79 Responses to “Andrea Riseborough’s ‘grassroots’ Oscar campaign likely violated AMPAS’s rules”

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  1. The Old Chick says:

    I didn’t realise how connected MM is. She’s not a huge star and I thought she was more celeb – adjacent, though I haven’t followed her career. About this nom, it smacks of lots of wrong to me, of the white privilege that was discussed last article. But honestly, for MM, what will really be the penalty? She’ll be at the oscars anyway

    • Smalltowngirl says:

      Her husband is a TV producer. Not Hollywood connection but still a connection, her sister was (until she retired last year) Chief Justice of Michigan’s Supreme Court. Mary McCormack is one of those people who had worked a long time in the industry, quietly and made a lot of connections.

      • Bananapanda says:

        Haven’t thought about Mary McCormack since the West Wing (never watched In Plain Sight). Haven’t thought about Michael Morris since he had the open affair with Katherine McPhee (she’s a peach!)

      • The Old Chick says:

        I know who her sister is but that’s not Hollywood.. And I knew her husband was a producer. I just didn’t think they were ‘big’ as in A list. I’ve seen west wing about 15 x but have barely heard much about her since. I had no idea she had so many A list buddies!

    • TIFFANY says:

      McCormack has been in the business a long time. Just because we don’t see her in front of the screen don’t mean she ain’t connected behind it.

      • Lens says:

        She is very popular within the Hollywood actress community, sort of like Jennifer Meyer is – but she is no nepo baby -her husband is a British TV (mostly) director producer and she’s acted for a long time on mostly TV. I found it odd she didn’t have anything on her instagram about Andrea R getting the nomination and so it makes sense that it was because of an investigation. All these rules were started because of Harvey Weinstein and his aggressive campaigns but it still isn’t a fair playing field if you don’t have a huge studio putting up the money for advertisements and screenings.

      • oscarwylde says:

        The director of For Leslie is Michael Morris, Mary’s actual IRL husband. He’s directed TV (he did quite a bit with Better Call Saul recently). But Mary was a producer on this film & went so hard for it in part because her husband directed it.

        But yes she is very connected (runs with Chelsea Handler of course but is also in circles with Jen Aniston, Jason Bateman, Sandra Bullock, Charlize Theron etc)

      • The Old Chick says:

        She has. I just didn’t realise how connected.

      • The Old Chick says:

        Tiffany, I get that geez. Ffs I literally I didn’t know. Save your attitude for the actual asshles that post here. There aren’t many coz most get kicked. I’m not a fng moron. So dial it

  2. Kiera says:

    If they did violate rules then it should affect her nomination. There is a direct through line there. No one was talking about her really except as that was a good performance but not one of the tops ones.

    Blonde is clearly people liking Ana and ignoring the bad movie and focusing on her. Still not good but that’s pretty common especially with actor nomination/she’s young and pretty.

    But this sucks there are at least two other great women who played by the rules and didn’t get the nomination.

  3. Frippery says:

    At least she didn’t slap anyone. /sarcasm

    So if she violated the rules, and it is too late to take away her nomination, could she later be stripped of her award (if she wins) a la Milli Vanilli?

    • rawiya says:

      It’s not too late to rescind her nomination. They did it in 2014 with one of the Original Song nominees. From the article: “The Academy rescinding Best Original Song nomination in 2014 after it was discovered that composer and songwriter Bruce Broughton (himself a former Board of Governors representative) “improperly lobbied” more than 70 members of the music branch via email. In a statement following the scandal Broughton claims that he had, “indulged in the simplest grassroots campaign and it went against me when the song started getting attention. I got taken down by competition that had months or promotion and advertising behind them I simply asked people to find the song and consider it.”

    • ThatsNotOkay says:

      Her nomination should be rescinded. Barring that, include Viola or Danielle so there would be six nominees. But stripping her of the nomination would be best, and barring Mary McCormack-adjacent films from consideration for ten years would be reasonable.

      • Mia4s says:

        That presumes that the next nominee on the list is Viola or Danielle. This is the Academy, would you be that shocked if the next nominee down was Olivia Coleman? Or Margot Robbie? I wouldn’t be.

        No my guess is all you will see is some “clarification of rules” next season. Too many powerful people in the background of this and too much potential for a bigger mess.

      • Frippery says:

        Mia that’s a good point. The ‘next in line’ is probably, mark me, Florence Pugh for DWD.

        I was assuming the “too late” reason for why they won’t disqualify her nomination, given the time it would take to investigate and determine versus when voting begins.

      • CourtneyB says:

        That’s not how it works. Stripping her just means there’s four nominees. No one gets added or moved up.

  4. mtos says:

    I just finished Station 11. Danielle Deadwyler is captivating. I can’t believe she got snubbed. Well I can because hollywood…. but I also can’t.

    • LightPurple says:

      She was absolutely amazing in Till and this is the most egregious snub to me.

      I feel less so about Viola’s because, although she is the titular character and she is amazing in the part, other actresses in The Woman King had far more screen time than she did and amount of screen time was the reason given for why she competed in supporting and not lead for Fences for which I thought she should have been in the lead and won that year over Emma Stone.

      • mtos says:

        Oh I totally agree with you. I’m a huge fan of Viola so I’m biased but she should have won over Emma Stone. She kills any role not that Emma doesn’t but she’s not the same caliber of actor as Viola.

  5. Dss says:

    Here’s my take on the movie itself…I live in the rust belt and women (and men) like the “Leslie” character are everywhere. Of course, not so much in Hollywood, so when beautiful wealthy Hollywood actors play these down and out characters it is seen “brave” Oscar worthy blah, blah. I just find using these down and out character/stories/movies straight up depressing…..I would much rather see a strong female characters much like Viola Davis (who is always spectacular) and Danielle Deadwyler’s Till (also spectacular). I’m also truly side eyeing Michelle Williams Oscar nom…..sigh

    • mtos says:

      Yes, they are depressing and it’s not an uncommon story. Winning the lotto is uncommon, but the characters life story is not special. It’s just sad and exploitive to people who are in these situations. I don’t know how to explain it. For me, it’s not entertainment.

    • TeamAwesome says:

      This. When I saw the trailer after the noms were announced, I thought, oh, they LOVE this kind of character, of course she got nominated.

  6. rawiya says:

    Where are we getting that they won’t punish her this year? They’ve rescinded nominations before, and the last time was way less publicized than this. It would actually be in their best interest to rescind hers, I think, because letting her and her team get away with it this year is going to open a whole can of worms going forward.

  7. Pnw says:

    The Oscars haven’t felt relevant in forever. It’s all tacky, self-congratulatory insider baseball, anyway. At least the clothes are pretty!

    • mtos says:

      The only part of any awards show I pay attention to anymore is the red carpet.

    • Christine says:

      I’ve always felt some people only win because they are “owed” an Oscar.

    • Kitten says:

      Alllll of this exactly. I loved what Seth Rogen said recently about how he doesn’t understand why anyone outside of the industry would care about this shit.

  8. Snuffles says:

    They should rescind her nomination.

  9. Coco says:

    They can definitely rescind her nominations like others have said it’s been done before and the nominations just came out this week and the Oscars aren’t until March 12 so it’s not too late.

  10. Summer says:

    Who ever thought awards were fair? They’ve always been political. Tons of bad movies (“Crash,” for example) have won Oscars, and actors’ nominations are always related to their campaigns. I haven’t seen the movies involved, but it’s always naive to think the most deserving work gets recognition. The article quoted above makes some legitimate points, but this statement is absurd: “yet [Deadwyler and Davis] presumably do not have access to a network of powerful (and, let’s be honest, white) friends in the Academy to campaign for Oscars on their behalf.” Um, excuse me? Viola Davis is beloved and enormously connected.

    • Mia4s says:

      I’m not sure that rescinding the nomination is on the table at all. People may be sanctioned for their campaign tactics (manager, Frances Fisher, etc), but there is not a lot to show SHE was the one doing the major soliciting. The songwriter everyone keeps citing contacted people himself. That will be the Academy’s out. A cop out? Well, yeah, welcome to Hollywood?

      Curious why there seems to be a presumption that Viola would have gotten the nom? The Woman King did not manage even a single nomination. Not so much as a “Best Sound”! The whole movie could not get “Riseborough’ed”. Getting absolutely nothing is a pretty clear indication the Academy in general was not a fan. If I were a betting woman I’d guess Danielle was more likely.

    • Bex says:

      And yet, a group of her fellow white actresses didn’t band together to secure her nomination. They instead posted on IG that since Viola’s (and Michelle Y, Danielle D) nod was a “shoo-in”, that voters didn’t need to vote for her and should vote for Andrea instead.

  11. Lurker says:

    The thing is…This movie/role still represents a female-driven effort to tell a very topical and important story about a woman who represents a lot of real women struggling with addiction, poverty, and rape culture today. It’s important to recognize this work, particularly in a place like Hollywood, where the power players and stories are usually men/male-centric. It’s not Andrea Riseborough’s fault that the Academy is racist. So everyone yelling “rescind her nomination!” seems off-base to me. What’s truly needed is a disruption of the system. An opportunity for not just stories/movies/performances like this one to thrive and get recognition but ALSO stories by women of colour. It’s not her OR them. It’s a change of system so that there’s room for every woman.

    • Twin Falls says:

      This. I hate that this is all happening to women in the best actress category when not a single female director was nominated. Where is the outrage there?

      I stand by Michelle Williams‘ nomination in best actress is due to the power of Steven Spielberg and apparently his team’s ability to lobby “within the rules”.

    • Coco says:

      So what your saying is it’s ok if she violated the rules and that two black actresses ( who played by the rules) were affected because of it and she should not face any consequences for doing so, but you do think the system should change so that it’s equal ground for everybody.

      Do you not see how hypocritical that sounds.

      • C says:

        This. Her nomination should be rescinded and the inequality and lack of representation in the system in no way excuse this. In fact, she is contributing to it by steamrolling the Black actresses who suffered by her actions.

      • JesMa says:

        It wasn’t the actress that lobbied and broke the rules. If she didn’t break any rules then how can they pull her nominated?

      • Coco says:


        It wouldn’t matter that she wasn’t the one who personally broke the rules, it was done to her benefit.

        Like the kids who celebrity parents broke the rules by bribing and falsifying documentation to get them in Ivy League colleges. A lot of those kids were kicked out at the school because of their parent’s wrong doing.

      • CourtneyB says:

        It’s not hypocritical if we don’t know 100% that Viola or Danielle were next in line. I do think the remark about no female directors and no one seeming to care is relevant. And that includes the director if Till. She’s spoken out about it.

      • Coco says:


        Really!! Come on besides out of nowhere Andrea, Viola or Danielle were the only two up for all of the other awards.

    • Bex says:

      It’s topical to white women, not women of color.

      Plus, it was the PR firms she hired to manage this faux grassroots campaign.

  12. Kate says:

    Wether you like it or not, it was Andrea that stole Viola’ spot, not Ana. Her nomination came out of nowhere, but Ana got Bafta and SAG nods. Why should Ana be blamed? Viola already has an Oscar and will surely get more in the future. I don’t she’s too upset about her snub.

    • Coco says:

      Let’s be real Ana is more likely to be nominated for multiple Oscar nominations in the future. You do know that there’s no black woman who has ever won more than one, Oscar and Viola black womanly in history to have been nominated more than once, so let’s be real.

      • Case says:

        Coco, Kate isn’t talking about who will get nominated in the future, or what is equitable and fair. She’s saying based on who hit precursors, Ana was always a fairly solid lock alongside Cate Blanchett and Michelle Yeoh. So the insistence that Ana stole anyone’s spot is just untrue. Williams and Riseborough were the two wildcards, not de Armas.

      • Coco says:

        Except for the part where she says “ Viola already has an Oscar and will surely get more in the future” as a response to the people saying that Viola should be there and not Ana .

    • Truth hurts says:

      Well why couldn’t Cate Blanchett to have not been nominated? If you want to be critical or talk about spots. That’s not the point to me. Point is these yt women yes the lil clique that’s being formed and it seems Aniston the tv and steaming star is CEO. Just recently made comments about outsiders taking over HW and their after parties. Speaking on how Marvel is ruining the movie industry. They are privileged and biased and want all the praise.

    • Fender says:

      Ana’s so called performance ain’t no such thing but a grotesque imitation. None of you people seem to know what good acting is.

    • Juju says:

      Kate is 100% correct. I know Kaiser is not a fan of Ana de armas…. But if you look at the SAG nominations and BAFTA, they have enough overlap in membership that Ana de Armas was pretty much a given.

      I know the movie sucked but actors were supportive of Ana’s performance.

      I do think it is a travesty that Danielle wasn’t nominated and would have liked to see her take Michelle Williams or Andrea’s spot (I haven’t seen To Leslie) but I really don’t think Ana’s nomination is to blame for all of this.

      • CourtneyB says:

        To anyone watching, de Armas has been pretty much a shoo in for awhile. Just because people hate the movie doesn’t mean she’s awful. (And don’t come at me with ‘she is’. Acting is subjective.) I think MW should’ve been in supporting. That’s where the issue is with me. Same as I thought viola should’ve been in lead when she won. (Ironically MW was the likely #2 there)

  13. crogirl says:

    A question
    Do oscar voters like Aniston, paltrow or Norton who participated in this have an obligation to report to Academy when someone like MM is emailing them and pressuring them? Should they also face consequences?

  14. blue says:

    I think the one who “stole” a nom is Michelle Williams. The role is light & if it weren’t a semi-auto bio of (well-liked) Spielberg, nobody would have paid much attention to this movie. Her nom is a kiss-up to Steven.

    • Lens says:

      Exactly. And it was an obvious supporting role so category fraud means she should have been eliminated in the best actress category. She’s become one of those actresses (yes like Kate Blanchet) who get nominated for every role because lazy people liked her in previous roles.

  15. Ace says:

    I always find it funny when there’s talk of something like this happening and everybody seems scandalized because it turns out (shock! horror!) the Oscars are a popularity contest and nothing else. Wait, they are also a money contest, because studios pour millions of dollars in campaigns, and famous friends push their friends or people they share an agent/agency to other Academy members.

    Obviously there are rules about lobying, and if it’s determined they broke them her nomination should be rescinced, but let’s not kid ourselves. Nine out of ten times nominees aren’t decided on merit alone, no matter how much everybody tries to pretend they are. Just look at those ‘secret ballot’ articles! There’s not that much difference between how the Golden Globes and the Oscars function, there’s just more people to bribe with the Oscars.

    • Truth hurts says:

      These are facts. It is a social ladder. It is a clique and group of friends. So this is why u see people now shouting out folks like abuser Pitt who was accepted back into the fold when Jolie left him. This is why u see some black notable actresses feel intimidated at some of these round tables. They don’t feel comfortable or welcome by this clique.

  16. Normades says:

    Blonde is trash but it’s not Ana that’s stealing anything. Andrea’s nom does seem like a violation and Michelle’s is category fraud.

  17. Case says:

    The blame absolutely does not belong on Ana de Armas. Much like Brendan Fraser in The Whale, voters have consistently recognized Ana’s performance this year despite not liking or recognizing the film itself. It happens. In this case, Ana hit necessary precursors to get an Oscar nom. It was not a shock whatsoever — that slot was always going to her. Michelle Williams is the slot that was expected to go to Danielle Deadwyler. Williams didn’t get nominated for as much as Deadwyler and so that’s the real upset.

  18. Lucy2 says:

    I feel like the sort of thing has probably always gone on, but much more behind the scenes. With so much of it being on social media it was more obvious this time, plus the film was so small and hardly seen by anyone, and suddenly all these celebrities were talking about it?
    I would expect people involved with any film to try to promote it and get award attention, but contacting Academy members like that and urging them to show public support day after day is pretty ridiculous. Ultimately, it makes the big prize they are chasing worth a lot less, IMO.

  19. Bem says:

    Ana didn’t “stole” anything. She did a great performance in a controversial film with an a hole director. Besides she was nominated for all the Oscars predecessors and prestige awards.

  20. Bex says:

    Nah, Andrea is the right one to focus on because that movie had zero traction, no BAFTA, SAG, or GG nods for her performance. She came out of nowhere because white woman broke to rules to nominate their own. It ESPECIALLY leaves a bad taste when these SAME WHITE ACTRESSES are posting how Viola, Danielle, Michelle were “shoo-ins” to get the nod, so voters didn’t need to waist their vote on them. Add in those copy and paste tweets from celebs, it’s reeks.

    Plus, apparently, Cate Blanchett’s comments in her acceptance speech about Andrea rubbed people the wrong way as they felt it was a slight against Danielle Deadwyler.

    • Bex says:

      *Michelle Yeoh

      *waste their vote

    • CourtneyB says:

      That lack of noms is precisely WHY the campaign went so hard so fast. Her distributor didn’t submit the film to the required guilds. Thus she was ineligible for the previous awards. This campaign was literally all the eggs in the Oscar basket.

  21. Beech says:

    I’ve watched the Oscars for decades, but eh, it’s all a crap shoot. When Nope came out, there was buzz for Keke Palmer’s performance. And recently I saw a tweet that Nope saw nada nominations not even in a technical category, ie, sound.

  22. Robert Phillips says:

    Okay let me understand this. It’s okay for a corporation, like Sony etc. To send food and alcohol to members to get them to vote for their person. But to tweet, email etc. to friends to watch and vote for someone is wrong. That is totally backwards. Did McCormack and her husband try to bribe or blackmail these people to vote for her? Or did they just say look at this movie and please vote if you like it? If it wasn’t a good performance did they still have to vote for it. And aren’t the votes anonomous? This seems to be getting into Golden Globes territory of buying wins.

  23. Abbie says:

    I honestly don’t understand what rules were exactly broken? Don’t they all widely promote their films and pay for said promotion? Doesn’t everyone hustle obscenely behind the scenes and networks? How is this suddenly “shocking”? Everyone who got nominated this year and all the years before that, everyone engaged in this kind of behavior.

    In the end it’s the voters who decide who to vote for, you can’t blame the actors for the ultimate decision the Academy makes. All of them just hustle to market their film and make more money. I find it hypocritical to single out some and treat others as if they’re above this. It’s all a cash competition, some win, some lose.

    Also Oscar snubs have always been a thing, and they just show the whole industry is about who hustles the most and has the most connections. They’ve famously snubbed Hitchcock and Kubrick for gods sake, that says it all.

  24. Wendy says:

    Oh if you knew what goes on behind closed doors. I work for a film technicians union and those of us who are academy members over the years were sent emails by the union to vote for the film(s) our technicians worked on if they were nominated. That would be lobbying for thousands of votes. The idea is that if a film wins, the producers and others will come back to our city to make more films therefore creating more work opportunities for members of the union. The whole system is rigged top to bottom and yes, we don’t get treated well at work most days… but that was obvious from the strike scandals over the past few years.

  25. AnneL says:

    I hadn’t heard of the movie so I watched the trailer and read a couple of reviews. It strikes me as a bit of a throw-back to small, character-driven films from the 70s and early 80s. Or maybe “Crazy Heart” with a female protagonist. It looks well-made and well-acted but depressing. Not something I care to watch.

    If rules were broken then there should be repercussions. It doesn’t seem that the actress did anything wrong, so her name shouldn’t be dragged through the mud. But no one is owed an Oscar nomination, so rescinding it, while a little harsh, wouldn’t be unfair.

    I will say that the fact that she seemingly came out of nowhere doesn’t really bother me? Not in and of itself anyway. Sometimes there’s a Dark Horse nominee or winner. It happens. It’s not the fact that her nomination was a surprise that’s a problem. It’s how it apparently happened.

  26. j says:

    Ah, yes. Let’s criticize the gatecrashers and not the gatekeepers. She did what she had to do to promote her project. And the narrative is that she is the one pushing woc out of the arena…when in fact the academy has always done a fine job of that on it’s own.

  27. Bobbie says:

    This happens all the time. The only reason is the 2 Black pics lost so they cry “foul” until they get their way.
    Prejudice against the whites again!

  28. ooshpick says:

    an actual good performance is nominated? wow. there are stars and there are actors. actors have no business with awards.

  29. AppleCart says:

    Looking at the actual rules on the Oscar website. They didn’t break any rules pre-Oscar season. If they did any of that during the Oscar season. Then the PR team and Mary would be in violation since they were basically begging them to watch and promote the movie.

    I think Mary and the PR teams did a good job of rallying their power base. This is ‘grassroot’s but it’s the most high power A list grass you can find.