Behind the Oscars: what is the Academy?

Backlash after celebrity award campaign for British star Andrea Riseborough

Andrea Riseborough
British star Andrea Riseborough has found herself embroiled in controversy over her Oscar nomination
(Image credit: Michael Tran / AFP)

Andrea Riseborough will keep her Oscar nomination despite concerns over the celebrity campaign to get her on the Best Actress shortlist, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has confirmed.

Riseborough was nominated last week for her role in the indie film To Leslie, in which she plays an alcoholic mother from Texas who tries to make ends meet after squandering her lottery winnings.

Both the actor and the Oscars organisers found themselves at the centre of a “race-row”, said The Times, as critics claimed Riseborough was nominated at the expense of Viola Davis for The Woman King and Danielle Deadwyler for Till.

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The episode has shone a spotlight on the workings of the Academy itself.

Who is in the Academy?

The number of Academy members is said to be 9,921. Membership is limited to people working in film production across 17 different categories, including acting, casting, cinematography and costume design.

People in the film industry become members through sponsorship, rather than application, and candidates need to be backed by two existing members. First-time Oscar nominees are given automatic membership consideration without sponsorship, however.

The ultimate decision of whether to accept a new member is made by the board of governors, who meet six to eight times a year. The president of the Academy is Janet Yang, a veteran film producer who was elected as its first Asian-American president in 2022. Eight vice-presidents sit alongside her.

Board members can serve up to two three-year terms. Following at least a two-year hiatus, they can then serve two further three-year terms.

The most recent additions to the board include Oscar-winning actor Marlee Matlin, cinematographer Dion Beebe, director Jason Reitman, producer Jason Blum, casting director Richard Hicks.

Members of the actors branch of the governors include Whoopi Goldberg and Rita Wilson. In addition to the board of governors and thousands of members, more than 700 members of staff conduct the Academy’s day-to-day business, overseen by CEO Bill Kramer.

Where is Oscars HQ?

The Academy is headquartered at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard Beverly Hills in California. The Oscars HQ is also home to the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre, a 1,000-seat cinema where blockbuster films including Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Moulin Rouge! and 127 Hours have premiered.

For the last two decades, the Oscars ceremony has usually been held at the 3,300-seat Dolby Theatre, located in an enormous shopping and entertainment complex in central Hollywood.

How does the voting process work?

Each member only votes on their branch’s categories at the nomination stage – so for example, “editors nominate editors, actors nominate for the four acting categories”, explained Variety’s awards editor Tim Gray. But “everyone gets to nominate Best Picture” and “for the final voting of the winner, all branches vote for everything”.

For the highly coveted Best Picture prize, the Academy uses a “preferential voting” system, where voters put their choices in order of preference, rather than just selecting their favourite. Some critics have slated this system, on the basis that a film could end up winning because it is overwhelmingly popular as a second, rather than first, choice.

Did Riseborough’s nomination break any rules?

The Newcastle-born star was considered an “outsider” for a nomination and was not on the awards season “radar” but enjoyed a “late surge” of support from high-profile fans – including Gwyneth Paltrow, Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston and Edward Norton – who championed the film on social media and hosted screenings, said the BBC.

The Academy launched an investigation into whether the campaign by Riseborough’s famous fans broke its rules, but concluded the issues did “not rise to the level that the film’s nomination should be rescinded”.

However, its chief executive, Kramar, said some social media and outreach campaigning had caused “concern” which had been “addressed with the responsible parties directly”.

The question over whether campaigning broke Academy rules is believed to relate to some specific special media posts which praised Riseborough but also made reference to her competitors, which is forbidden under the guidelines.

One now-deleted post quoted Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times, who wrote: “As much as I admired [Cate] Blanchett’s work in Tár, my favourite performance by a woman this year was delivered by the chameleonlike Andrea Riseborough.”

The return of #OscarsSoWhite?

Following the Oscars nominations announcement last week, Till director Chinonye Chukwu criticised the film industry for “upholding whiteness and perpetuating an unabashed misogyny towards Black women”, while on social media the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag was revived, after first being used in 2016 to protest the lack of diversity amongst nominees.

The 2016 backlash over the Oscars’ lack of diversity led to a “successful push” to double its members from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, as well as the number of women, by 2020, said The Times. But no black actors were nominated for the Best Actress category this year, despite Davis and Deadwyler being highly touted.

Riseborough was nominated alongside Cate Blanchett for Tár, Michelle Williams for The Fablemans, Ana de Armas for Blonde, Michelle Yeoh for Everything Everywhere All At Once.

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