Oscars changes campaign rules after Andrea Riseborough controversy

After controversy earlier this year over lead actress Andrea Riseborough’s surprise Oscar nomination for the previously unseen “To Leslie,” the Film Academy announced Monday that it has updated its campaign regulations for the coveted accolades.

The new regulations, approved by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 54-member board of governors, clarify rules regarding communications for members to promote certain films and shows, including the use of social media, and limit the number of hosted screenings allowed prior to nominations.

Among other changes, the organization also imposed new restrictions on the participation of Academy judges in lobbying for the Oscars, expressly forbidding them from hosting events or showings of nominated films or publicly endorsing any disputed films or performances unless directly related to them.

While the Academy has periodically updated its rules with the ever-escalating cost of the Oscars campaign, the new changes mark the most significant overhaul of the rules since their inception in 1994.

Those lists came under fresh scrutiny in January after Riseborough secured her unexpected nomination after a short but intense grassroots campaign of emails, social media posts and celebrity-hosted shows highlighting her performance, with celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston and Edward Norton. Charlize Theron and others lend their support to the cause.

Riseborough’s nomination for a film that earned just $27,000 at the box office has led some to wonder if the aggressive lobbyists — led by Riseborough’s director, Jason Weinberg, and actress Mary McCormack, wife of “To Leslie” director Michael Morris — have breached the Academy. Campaign rules. Fueling controversy over Riseborough’s nod was the exclusion of Viola Davis (“The Woman King”) and Danielle Didwiller (“Even”), who were considered strong contenders, as candidates.

After a review, the Academy leadership decided to allow Riseborough’s nomination. But in a statement announcing the decision, Film Academy CEO Bill Kramer acknowledged that “the components of the regulations must be clarified to help create a better framework for a respectful, inclusive, and unbiased campaign.”

In the run-up to this year’s nominations, actress Frances Fisher posted on social media that Davis and Didweller were “locks” and encouraged others to vote for Riseborough — a form of pressure that won’t be allowed now.

To clarify what is permissible in terms of lobbying, the new rules state that while members may praise films and shows in general and encourage others to watch them, they may not discuss their own voting preferences or those of other members. The regulations state, “You may not attempt to encourage other members to vote or not vote for any motion picture or achievement.”

In an effort to level the playing field, smaller films like “To Leslie,” which often lack the marketing resources of larger competitors, will now be able to apply to the Academy for a reduced rate of inclusion in the institution’s digital screening platform, giving them a chance to stand out among the larger crowd. Group members over 10,000.

It remains to be seen to what extent the organization will be able to monitor the communications of its thousands of members, many of whom have personal and professional social media accounts. As many have pointed out since the Riseborough event, soliciting votes for friends and allies through personal connections is a practice almost as old as the Oscars themselves.

To enforce the new rules, which will be reviewed annually, the organization announced the creation of a new process for reporting violations and further clarifying potential penalties, which could include disqualifying a film or performance for consideration, revoking a nomination, and revoking a member’s voting privileges. Or suspend or kick them out of the group.

“The Academy is committed to conducting a fair, clear, and equitable award process focused on honoring creative excellence,” the organization says in its new bylaws. “Members are expected to make their award voting decisions based on the technical and technical merits of all eligible films, performances and achievements.”

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