Andrea Riseborough will keep her Oscar nomination. But what about Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler?
Andrea Riseborough's nomination for best actress revived controversy over racial exclusion at the Oscars.
Many media pundits saw the nomination as snubs for Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler.
The politics and business of award campaigns often fail actors and directors of color.
Many Oscars watchers were stunned when Andrea Riseborough was nominated for best actress in January for her performance in "To Leslie" — not because she didn't deserve it, but rather because of how unusual the nod was.
The surprise nomination for Riseborough's role in the indie film "To Leslie" elicited audible gasps when Riz Ahmed announced the actress's name.
The nomination also sparked renewed criticism of Hollywood and its awards industry, which has a history of undervaluing actors and directors of color.
The scandal took another turn when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the Oscars, met on Tuesday to discuss whether to rescind Riseborough's nomination due to possible rule violations.
The Academy decided that Riseborough will keep her nomination. Some in the industry say it takes away a spot for the celebration of lauded performances by Black actresses like Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler.
Just 14 Black actresses have been nominated for best lead actress — and only one, Halle Berry, has ever won.
The controversy has also sparked scrutiny of the "business" of Hollywood's award ceremonies, which relies in part on money-backed campaigns and A-list connections — advantages that minority actors disproportionately do not enjoy, according to Kristen Warner, associate professor of performing and media arts at Cornell University.
"In a world where all things were equal, actresses like Deadwyler may have had more of that opportunity," Warner said.
The 'business' of Hollywood award nominations
Oscars nominations for best performance aren't purely based on acting finesse alone, but also on politics, promotion, and publicity, according to Warner.
"People who have studio support behind the production and studios that can outsource campaign marketing will put these people and their performances in the public view for months before the nomination process," Warner told Insider. "Promotion and publicity, and, of course, whatever blocs or alliances are in the membership body."
The Academy has taken steps to increase diversity among its ranks in recent years, with minorities making up nearly a third of its new Oscar voters in 2019, according to the New York Times. But some experts suspect it may not have been sufficient in the "business of the nomination process."
"The number may not have been enough for them to create a network that would support the nomination of Black women, to hold the hardline for them the same ways that happened for Riseborough," Warner said.
There are also rules in place to ensure fairness in awards nominations, at least on the surface. The Academy investigated "To Leslie" for potential violations of rules involved in Oscars voting, such as contacting voters directly and encouraging promotion, as well as singling out competing nominees by name.
Riseborough's nomination was "particularly striking" and "alarming" not because it is novel in itself — there have been other actors who took award campaigns into their own hands — but rather because of "who her nomination may have knocked off," Warner said.
An exclusion of Black actors
Riseborough's nomination skirted the usual route at the Oscars, relying on a concerted campaign by dozens of A-list actors to raise her profile — a move that experts and fans alike saw as a method that left Black actors in the dust.
Scores of celebrities, including Jennifer Aniston, Kate Winslet, and Edward Norton, publicly lauded Riseborough's performance in "To Leslie" in the days leading up to voting for the Oscars. Cate Blanchett, a fellow Oscars nominee for best actress, also praised Riseborough in her Critics Choice Award acceptance speech.
Some awards experts speculated a potential Riseborough nomination would nudge out Michelle Williams for her role in "The Fabelmans," or Ana de Armas, who starred in the Marilyn Monroe biopic "Blonde," which many critics characterized as exploitative.
Instead, Danielle Deadwyler and Viola Davis were snubbed for their roles in "Till" and "The Woman King," respectively, which many media pundits saw as award-winning performances.
Both movies had wowed critics and fans: "The Woman King" grossed $94.3 million globally, while "Till' grossed nearly $10 million. "To Leslie" grossed only $27,000 in its theatrical release.
Deadwyler and Davis' apparent snub by the Academy Awards revived claims of racial exclusion and of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. Following the nominations announcement, "Till" director Chinonye Chukwu denounced the film industry for "upholding whiteness and perpetuating an unabashed misogyny towards Black women."
"If you have A-list friends who are persuasive as Riseborough's friends have been, you may be able to justify voting for her, even if you may have previously been comfortable voting for Viola or Danielle, for example," Warner said.
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