Monday, February 3, 2014

86th Academy Awards: Revoking of Original Song Nomination for "Alone Yet Not Alone"

They Don't Want to Hear Alone

When the Academy Award nominations were announced, among the categories broadcast that early morning was Best Original Song.  The first one listed left everyone quite stunned: Alone Yet Not Alone from the film of the same name was placed in contention with songs from bigger stars (Bono) and bigger films (Frozen).  This obscure song from a totally obscure film that no one had heard of was now an Oscar-nominated film. 

Now, a mere two weeks later, the Academy has decided to rescind the nomination for Alone Yet Not Alone, which is extremely rare.  The biggest case I can remember where this happened was when Nino Rota's Best Original Score nomination for The Godfather was withdrawn when it was discovered Rota had taken music he'd written for another film (Fortunella) and used it for The GodfatherIn Fortunella, what became later known as The Godfather Love Theme was actually a very peppy affair, not the slow and haunting melody it became better-known as.

Curiously, two years later, The Godfather Part II won Rota and Carmine Coppola the Best Original Score Oscar even though The Godfather Part II used music from...The Godfather, which used music from...Fortunella

The official reason for the rescinding was that Bruce Broughton, who wrote the music, sent e-mails during the nominating period to some Academy music branch members (70 of the 240 members of this particular branch) directing them to that particular song (one of 75 songs that made the eligibility list).  The 75 songs in the final round of nominations have the film and song title, not the composer/lyricist.  Broughton directed his fellow members to his particular song, mentioning that he co-wrote it with Dennis Spiegel.  You can read the text of the e-mail here

No replacement song will be put in place of Alone Yet Not Alone as per Academy rules, which state that if a nominee is disqualified for any reason, no substitute will take its place.

Bruce Broughton

This explanation makes sense, up to a point.  This is what I mean: Broughton's act of asking certain members to listen to a particular song which he was behind is a questionable decision because it does look like he's subtly lobbying for his song.  Reading and rereading the actual text of the e-mail however, I can't find anything wildly out-of-place that suggests he and Spiegel should have been stripped of the nomination.  He didn't say "Vote for my song".  He didn't say, "I scratched your back now you scratch mine".  He merely asked them to listen to "Song #57" fearing that it would get lost in the shuffle of other songs from studios with bigger campaigns.

Given some of the more outlandish Oscar campaigns of the past, from Chill Wills' declaration on his Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Alamo (a film highly regarded as having basically bullied its way to its own Best Picture nomination) that the cast was praying for Wills "harder than the real Texans prayed for their lives at the Alamo" for him to win (he didn't), to Margaret Avery's 'Dear God' letter for her turn in The Color Purple up to Melissa Leo's "Consider" ads of two years back, Broughton's reminders seem pretty innocuous, almost tame. 

Was it within the rules?  The Academy says no.  I say, it's up for debate.

There are however, some troubling aspects of this whole scandal for me.  First, in order for me to accept the Academy's explanation, I have to believe that these 70 e-mailed members a.) actually took Broughton up on his offer to listen to his song or even bothered to read the e-mail, b.) all decided to vote for it over the other 74 songs on their CDs, and c.) did so with the idea that they were all beholden to Broughton when he served as Chairman of the Music Branch (which he hasn't been for two years).   I also have to believe that these 70 members also managed to outweigh the votes of the other 170 members who potentially voted (since at the moment I don't know if EVERY Music Branch member submitted a nominating ballot).  Throw in the fact that again, there were 75 songs on the final list for consideration, of which Alone Yet Not Alone was one. 

I would like to know how Alone Yet Not Alone could have had such power over all these Music Branch members as to eclipse Lana Del Rey, Coldplay, or Taylor Swift (if I were a member, the phrase "Oscar nominee Taylor Swift" would sicken me, but I digress).  There were 75 songs, and from those, five were selected, and among them was Alone Yet Not Alone.  Try as I might, I can't believe these 70 e-mails could have had such power.  What if I were a recipient of one of these e-mails, heard the song, and thought it was junk?  No amount of affection I may have for Broughton would have gotten me to pick Alone Yet Not Alone over say, Young and Beautiful from The Great Gatsby or even That Snail is Fast from Turbo if I thought either was better.

My view?  Alone Yet Not Alone earned its nomination legitimately, these e-mails notwithstanding.

I think ever since Alone Yet Not Alone was announced as a nominee, the entire thing has been an embarrassment to the Academy itself and that both the song and film have been the subject of a vicious smear campaign by people who at most dislike the song and film's overtly religious/Christian message. 

The campaign against Alone Yet Not Alone began hours after the nominations.  HitFix (perhaps going for 'hit job') writer Guy Lodge suggested that it was Broughton's past position in the Academy that got him the nod. 

"Anyway, I suppose you can call it a triumph of sorts for genuine independent filmmaking--even if the independent film in question looks a wee bit sludgy.  Or, you know, for AMPAS peer loyalty, given that Broughton is a former Academy Governor and, oh, the former chief of the music branch".
The filmmakers had probably barely received the news themselves of their surprise nomination when already a 'whisper campaign' against it was launched.  Lodge called the film 'a wee bit sludgy' even though he hadn't seen it and was basing his views on the film (not the song itself) on the trailer. 

If I based my views on any film based on a trailer, I would have declared Green Lantern the greatest comic book based film in history.  Again I digress.

He even threw in a snide comment on the singer of the song, with a 'For your listening pleasure, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the vocal stylings (sic) of Joni Eareckson Tada on "Alone Yet Not Alone".

Takes a big man to beat up on a quadriplegic like Mrs. Tada. 

The film had other strikes against it besides the suggestions that Broughton had undue influence over the voters to an almost Svengali-like degree.  Alone Yet Not Alone was accused of racism due to the images of Native Americans.  Again, given practically no one (outside those who paid to see the film during its one week release in California to qualify for Oscar consideration) has actually seen the film, to say that Alone Yet Not Alone is somehow this generation's Birth of a Nation is rather foolish at best.  Also, people forget the Academy didn't nominate Alone Yet Not Alone due to its content.  They nominated the song.  A nomination is not an endorsement of the film's content, or does this now mean the Academy endorses transgender operations because it nominated Travelin' Thru from Transamerica? (Side note: it should have won, not It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp from Hustle & Flow).

Then there was the overtly religious nature of the film.  People had a distaste that it was a 'Christian' film.  Now, I have seen many 'Christian' films (Gold Through the Fire, Second Glance, The Moment After and The Moment After II...which makes me wonder if that doesn't make it The Moment RIGHT After The Moment After?), and most are pretty bad production-wise.  I can't say whether Alone Yet Not Alone is as bad as those (and I admit, I do like these films), but I also know that for many, the Christian-centered theme of the film is simply too much to 'endorse' with a nomination, let alone an actual statue (even if it had ZERO chance of winning).  In many circles, just like "Zionism=Racism", Christianity=Bigotry.  Alone Yet Not Alone was openly, unabashedly Christian, and I imagine that there were many who were absolutely livid that something like Christianity could possibly be rewarded.  Imagine the horror of having either Mrs. Tada or my choice (Michael W. Smith) perform Alone Yet Not Alone for millions of people. 

The Oscars can't be used for proselytizing.  They can be used to rail against 'Zionist hoodlums' or give messages from the Viet Cong, but not from those crazed Bible-thumpers.  Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum praised the film, and in Hollywood, where Santorum is seen as more evil than someone like Adolph Hitler or Osama bin Laden, that was proof enough that this nomination was a mistake.  

Gerald Molen, who won an Oscar for producing Schindler's List, took the unprecedented step of writing to Academy head Cheryl Boone Isaacs accusing the Academy of its own bigotry.  I'm of the mindview that yes, the overtly Christian nature of Alone Yet Not Alone was something the Academy did not want to deal with, so these e-mails seemed like manna from Heaven, given them the excuse they needed to dump this embarrassment.  Molen makes another fascinating point, which I'll tackle at the end. 

Things took a wildly bizarre turn when a private investigator was hired by a public relations firm representing a snubbed songwriter to see if Alone Yet Not Alone even qualified for a nomination (as of today, we still don't know who the actual songwriter in question is whose P.R. firm launched the investigation). Vanity Fair is within its right to say "hats off" to the snob...I mean, snubbed, songwriter, but I find the idea of hiring detectives to check up on the opposition almost Nixonian. 

Seriously, who hires Sam Spade to see why you were denied what you think you deserve?

In that scenario, the Academy decided that the ads Alone Yet Not Alone took to promote the film in its one-week run were enough to qualify it, but the writing was on the wall.  

Finally, in the middle of this fiasco, we get to the very core of the Oscars: the campaign.  This isn't the first or the last time that the dirty open secret of the Academy Awards is spilt outside Hollywood for all to see: that people campaign furiously for these statues.  In 2002, the negative campaign against A Beautiful Mind was fodder for Oscar host Whoopi Goldberg.  "I tell you this negative campaigning has got to stop," she deadpanned.  "I got an e-mail today saying that Frodo Baggins was an anti-Semite!" (a reference to the alleged anti-Semitism of Professor John Nash, the film's hero.  Wonder why anti-Semitism was the allegation used.  Personally, I didn't like A Beautiful Mind, but that's for another time). 

Nicolas Chartier, one of the producers of The Hurt Locker, was stripped of his tickets and barred from attending the Oscars when e-mails snidely mocking a certain film were uncovered.  In these e-mails, sent during the final voting, he urged members to vote for The Hurt Locker, not some "$500 million dollar film".  I wonder whatever film he was referring to...

Curiously, these e-mails did not lead to The Hurt Locker's nomination being rescinded.  As far as the Academy is concerned, sending e-mails asking people to consider your submission is verboten.  Sending e-mails basically telling you to vote for the film you made over another gets you the big prize. 

My question is, why didn't the Academy rescind The Hurt Locker's Best Picture nomination when Chartier did something far worse than what got Bruce Broughton's nod tossed out?  Even HitFix (no friend to either Broughton or Christian films and who basically fired the first shots against Alone Yet Not Alone) knows blatant hypocrisy when it sees it

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is hypocritical and bigoted.  Alone Yet Not Alone got its nomination thrown out because there were simply too many people complaining: about the subject matter, about the idea of undue influence, about the religious nature of the film.  It has little to nothing to do with Bruce Broughton's questionable actions. 

I've got no dog in this hunt.  I don't care one bit about either the song or the film Alone Yet Not Alone.  I do care when people start taking bully-like tactics, start ganging up on someone or something.  There has been a deliberate campaign against this miniscule production from the moment its nomination was announced, culminating in the Academy rescinding said nomination.  The song would never have won (they should have taken the title of the probable winner to heart and Let It Go).  Ms. Isaac and the AMPAS may give itself all the vapors it wants, but for them to rescind a nomination due to campaigning questions is insulting to people's intelligence.

I'm waiting for Ms. Isaac to quote from my favorite line from my favorite character in one of my favorite films.  "I'm shocked, SHOCKED, to find that someone would ask people to consider them for an Oscar nomination!"   
THIS is OK with the Academy,
but no e-mails please.
THAT would be trashy and stupid...

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