An Oscar Oops and the Most Mysterious Campaign

The Academy Presents "The Joy Luck Club" (1993) 25th Anniversary
Someone seems to have informed Academy president Janet Yang that she probably shouldn’t be posting a lengthy endorsement of ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ star Michelle Yeoh just as Oscar voting was starting this weekend. Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Matthew Belloni
January 15, 2023

Someone seems to have informed Academy president Janet Yang that she probably shouldn’t be posting a lengthy endorsement of Everything Everywhere All at Once star Michelle Yeoh just as Oscar voting was starting this weekend. Influential plugs like that are considered a no-no for Academy leaders, especially its president, and especially during the height of a heated Oscar campaign. Yang lauded her “four decades of love” for Yeoh, adding “it’s sobering why it took so long” for the awards recognition; she also posted a video of a Netflix campaign event for Pinocchio filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, but at least that was at an Academy venue.

A couple Academy members reached out to me to voice frustration about Yang’s quasi-endorsements (none connected to Cate Blanchett or any Yeoh rival), and by this morning, when I asked the Academy about it, Yang had deleted the posts. The Academy isn’t commenting.

That’s hardly the biggest Oscar eyebrow-raiser this season. That honor goes to Joyce Carol Oates, author of the source material for Netflix’s Blonde, who is waging a bizarre war on Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, calling it a “remarkably mediocre movie” on Twitter, and adding that it “must be discouraging for young filmmakers.” Netflix says it has nothing to do with the tweets. (I actually believe it; Oates is a Twitter provocateur, once railing against a “barbaric” photo of Spielberg posing with a dead—and, uh, very fake!—triceratops on the set of Jurassic Park.)   

The Yang faux pas isn’t even the weirdest endorsement narrative of the season. Are you following this bizarre Andrea Riseborough campaign? The English actress and her performance as a troubled alcoholic in Michael Morris’s drama To Leslie—a movie that several awards-season professionals tell me they haven’t seen and know nobody who has—have suddenly become the cause célèbre among a ton of other stars. Everyone from Jane Fonda to Kate Winslet to Jennifer Aniston to Sarah Paulson to Susan Sarandon to Rosie O’Donnell and literally dozens more have posted or given interviews about the performance. Charlize Theron, Ed Norton, Courteney Cox and Gwyneth Paltrow have hosted screenings. Amy Adams is doing one on Tuesday. Blanchett even shouted out Riseborough in her Critics Choice acceptance speech tonight. This movie grossed $27,322 worldwide, per Boxofficemojo, but in certain parts of Brentwood and the Palisades, you’d think it was Avatar 2.   

Hosted screenings and quasi-endorsements by friends and collaborators are common during awards season, of course, but I’ve never seen it on this scale for this obscure a movie. “I am almost certain Riseborough has a Hollywood orgy videotaped and she’s using it to blackmail everyone,” joked someone on Reddit, where the endorsements are being discussed. Rival campaigners believe CAA, which reps a lot of the backers, or Jason Weinberg, Riseborough’s well-connected manager, are likely behind the viral effort on behalf of a showy performance in a movie released by a tiny distributor, Momentum, which can’t afford a typical campaign. Jason referred me to Shelter PR, which, along with Narrative, has been out there for months talking up Riseborough, and they told me there’s nothing other than grass-roots support going on.  

Hmmm. Whatever, I guess you do what you gotta do in the awards game, especially when your studio won’t do it for you. Will this stuff work? Riseborough already scored a Spirit nom for To Leslie, and Oscar voting closes on Tuesday.