There are always surprise nominations during every awards season. Sometimes a small film with low box office returns is an awards darling. But when nominations came out this week for the Academy Awards, some were shocked to see Andrea Riseborough nominated for best actress for To Leslie.

We even noted on the day that noms were released that Riseborough got a miracle nod through a "grassroots campaign." That's not necessarily against the rules, and you can self-fund your Oscars push. However, usually, candidates have a more formal, studio-backed campaign leading up to the Oscars. Los Angeles Times called the nom "shocking" and wrote about how notable stars like Gwyneth Paltrow, Courteney Cox, Kate Winslet, and Amy Adams were enlisted to host screenings and generate buzz. 

But we first caught wind of something more to the story when Puck released a piece calling into question the nature of Riseborough's campaign, leading to what the publication calls "a brewing shitshow within the Academy." Puck paints that grassroots campaign as "dozens of influential stars" pushing voters to see the film in a campaign that may have just toed the line.

The Academy makes a decision about Andrea Riseborough's Best Actress nomination'To Leslie'Credit: Momentum Pictures

"Oscar campaigns can't directly ask you to vote, and the Academy has tried to put in some rules," producer Joe Pichirallo told ABC 7 in 2020. "So one of the ways around that is they invite you to question and answer sessions, a chance to hobnob with the filmmakers and stars."

Now multiple outlets (including Variety) are reporting that AMPAS will review the situation.

Per Variety, the Academy has released the following statement on the matter:

It is the Academy’s goal to ensure that the Awards competition is conducted in a fair and ethical manner, and we are committed to ensuring an inclusive awards process.

We are conducting a review of the campaign procedures around this year’s nominees, to ensure that no guidelines were violated, and to inform us whether changes to the guidelines may be needed in a new era of social media and digital communication.

We have confidence in the integrity of our nomination and voting procedures, and support genuine grassroots campaigns for outstanding performances.

The SXSW drama was released in October. Although reviews were solid, it did not do well at the box office, with a $27,322 worldwide gross (according to Box Office Mojo).

The AMPAS regulations are long and strict and are meant to prevent any underhanded dealings or influence. Lobbying is against the rules: "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."

According to Variety, "The question is whether the support of Riseborough’s friends constitutes the kind of lobbying that the Academy prohibits."

Sometimes that line is fuzzy to Academy members. For instance, The Wrap reported in 2014 about Bruce Broughton's disqualification when it was revealed he had emailed voters about his qualifying song. Afterward, Broughton released a statement saying he "indulged in the simplest grassroots campaign, and it went against me when the song started getting attention."

Oscars_1AMPAS reviews Oscar campaign after Andrea Riseborough's surprising Oscar nominationCredit: WireImage

But the Academy replied that Broughton, a former AMPAS governor, had used his influence in a way that violated policy.  “No matter how well-intentioned the communication, using one’s position as a former governor and current executive committee member to personally promote one’s own Oscar submission creates the appearance of an unfair advantage,” Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said in a statement (via Oscars).

So, all in all, it's not clear at this point if any rules were broken. However, the Academy has provisions in place:

If any campaign activity is determined by the Board of Governors to work in opposition to that goal, whether or not anticipated by these regulations, the Board of Governors may take any corrective actions or assess any penalties, including disqualification, that in its discretion it deems necessary to protect the reputation and integrity of the awards process.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.