When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for their annual awards on January 16th, 2014, suspicion rumbled around the Best Original Song category, which featured a nomination for a little heard song from a little seen film titled Alone Yet Not Alone.
Composed by Emmy winning Oscar nominee Bruce Broughton, with lyrics by Dennis Spiegel, the song is performed by quadriplegic evangelical Christian author and radio host, Joni Earekson Tada. Concerns about the inclusion of the song, however, stemmed from the fact that the composer is a former Governor of the Academy’s music branch, and a current executive committee member.
Following the nominations announcement, Broughton addressed concerns as he spoke to Entertainment Weekly:
“What happens is that the Music Branch of the Academy puts all the songs on a disc and I was concerned that this song would be really easy to overlook. So, yeah, I wrote some people and said, ‘Could you just take a look?’ That was literally the extent of the campaigning. I received in the mail songs from other films that pressed and recorded CDs. We didn’t do anything like that at all.”
Though an independently produced song from an independent movie being included among the year’s top five songs in film may have been cause for celebration, that celebration was short-lived. Due to what the Academy has deemed an “ethical breach,” a meeting of the Governor’s Board voted to officially strip the song of its Oscar recognition. In a statement to the press, the Academy clarified their decision:
“The decision was prompted by the discovery that Broughton, a former Governor and current Music Branch executive committee member, had emailed members of the branch to make them aware of his submission during the nominations voting period.
“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,” said Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Academy President.
Responding to the ruling, Broughton stated to Entertainment Weekly:
“I’m devastated. I indulged in the simplest grass-roots campaign and it went against me when the song started getting attention. I got taken down by the competition that has months of promotion and advertising behind them. I simply asked people to find the song and consider it.”
While awards season back-room politicking and shameless Oscar campaigning undertaken by financially-able movie studios is no secret, it seems it is the ethical perception of the incident that causes the Academy concern. Acknowledging that Broughton’s alleged actions do not technically contravene any Academy rules, it is the following guideline that supports the revocation of the nomination:
“It is the Academy’s goal to ensure that the Awards competition is conducted in a fair and ethical manner. 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 corrective actions or assess any penalties that in its discretion it deems necessary to protect the reputation and integrity of the awards process.”
In other words, Broughton’s alleged action would not have been a problem, were it not for the fact that he is an executive committee member.
With the Academy making it clear that the nomination will not be replaced with another, the Best Original Song category will feature only four songs:
- “Happy” from Despicable Me 2 – Music and lyric by Pharrell Williams
- “Let It Go” from Frozen – Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
- “The Moon Song” from Her – Music by Karen O, lyric by Karen O and Spike Jonze
- “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom – Music by U2 (Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen), lyric by Paul Hewson (AKA Bono).
The move to revoke an Academy Award nomination, though rare, is not without precedent. Several similar decisions have been made throughout the history of the awards – usually due to issues surrounding eligibility. This instance is particularly noteworthy, however, as it is due to allegations of impropriety on the part of an executive committee member.
The greatest impact will be on the film itself. Directed by Ray Bengston and George D Escobar, Alone Yet Not Alone is the film adaptation of the same-titled book by Tracey Leininger Craven. It is the true story of the Leininger family who, while living in the Blue Mountains of Pennsylvania in 1755, are caught in the cross-fire during the French and Indian war. Locked in a battle for survival, the Leininger sisters must rely on their Christian faith to survive.
A truly independent project, the film would have benefitted greatly from the significant bump in interest and sales that traditionally accompany an Oscar nomination. While Academy Award nominees form a highly exclusive club, Alone Yet Not Alone now joins a group even smaller in number – those stripped of their Academy honours. It remains to be seen if there is any truth to the age-old adage that there is ‘no such thing as bad publicity.’