How Gwyneth Paltrow made Andrea Riseborough an ‘Oscars villain’

Before the nominations for the 2023 Academy Awards were announced last month, the casual moviegoer would have been forgiven for asking “Andrea who?” when news broke that a British actor named Andrea Riseborough had snagged a highly surprising nomination for best actress.

Unfortunately, in addition to now being known as an Oscar nominee, the British actor also is a candidate for one of this year’s “Oscar villains” — loosely defined by Vulture writer Nate Jones as the movie, performer or filmmaker that a consensus of Oscars fans have decided each year to root against, some even to hate.

Riseborough gained this tag, apparently through no fault of her own. The respected, hard-working actor, known for her appearances in British TV and indie films, has ended up in the same category as such recently maligned Oscar winners as Rami Malek and “Green Book.”

But fair or not, Riseborough was at the center of a controversial campaign this year to win her a nomination for her performance as an alcoholic in the indie drama, “To Leslie.” Very few people had seen the movie, but her nomination helped edge out “The Woman King’s” Viola Davis and “Till’s” Danielle Deadwyler, two Black actresses whom many assumed were locks for one of the five spots.

In January, stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Edward Norton went on social media and gushed about Riseborough’s performance, even as Norton said he rarely posted much about movies or other actors’ performances. Soon, other “boldfaced names from the A-list down to the D-list” were following Paltrow and Norton’s lead, “many of them using suspiciously similar language,” Jones wrote.

The result was that Riseborough got the nomination, Davis and Deadwyler did not, a backlash erupted and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences launched an investigation into whether the Riseborough campaign violated any rules.

The Academy learned that Riseborough’s manager, Jason Weinberg, and actor Mary McCormack, the wife of “To Leslie” director Michael Morris, had reportedly inundated members of the Academy’s acting branch with messages asking them to go on social media and support her bid.

This social media initiative worked in the sense Riseborough was nominated, but there’s been a cost. She became “the face” of a long-perceived Oscars bias against Black performances, Jones said. Gina Prince-Bythewood, director of “The Woman King,” spoke about the difficulties she faced in getting Academy members to support her film, in contrast to the way a largely White group of celebrities who rallied around Riseborough and “To Leslie.” Prince-Bythewood said: “There is no groundswell from privileged people with enormous social capital to get behind Black women.”

While the Academy ruled that some of the tactics used in the Riseborough campaign “raised concern,” it decided to not rescind her nomination. But it doesn’t look like Riseborough has been able to enjoy being one of the few actors on the planet to ever score an Academy Award nomination. She’s kept a low profile at some of the awards shows she has attended in the run-up to the Oscars Sunday night. She’s also featured as one of the candidates for this year’s “Oscars villain” in Jones’ Vulture writeup. The other two are the movies, “The Whale” and “Elvis.”

“There’s a hint of tragic irony here,” Jones wrote. “The movie’s team launched the campaign because it wanted ‘To Leslie’ not to be forgotten, and now it never will be — at least among awards nerds.”

If there’s any consolation for Riseborough, Jones said it doesn’t look like Oscars fans are angry with her specifically.  Los Angeles Times writer Robert Daniels also said Riseborough isn’t to blame. Rather the blame lies with “broken systems” that mean that Black women will be sidelined even when they do all an industry asks of them to promote their films, he said.

It also looks like Riseborough will continue to work going forward, with four upcoming film and projects. Even better, with the 2023 Oscars controversy behind her, casual movie-goers may be less inclined to ask, “Andrea who?”

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