Monday, February 3, 2014

Among the Oscar Noms for Best Song, A Christian Dark Horse

When the Oscar nominations for “Original Song” were announced recently, many were confounded to find, among more typical selections from weighty Oscar-bait like Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and big-budget blockbusters such as Frozen and Despicable Me 2, a quiet little Christian devotional from an obscure, Christian-themed independent film.

Because Alone Yet Not Alone, about two sisters captured by hostile American Indians around 1755, brought in just $134,000 at the box office during its 21-day release, some accused its song (of the same title) of getting an inside track at the Oscars due to the influence of its songwriting pros Bruce Broughton and Dennis Spiegel. The Week magazine called the situation “shady.” Spin and HitFix also questioned the Academy’s choice. The Wire labeled the song “the Year’s Most WTF Oscar Nominee.” Insiders like publicist Ray Costa dismissed notions of a conspiracy and emphasized the song’s uniqueness: “This one was different. It was inspirational and integral to the movie.”

The claws also came out over politically correct concerns that the fact-based story contained what The Wire called “some very (very!) questionable portrayals of Native Americans as savage-like.” threw out a particularly hateful barb: “They give out Oscars for racism now?” Apparently the filmmakers didn’t get the memo that it’s forbidden in Hollywood to depict any non-Christian, non-white culture in a less-than-rosy light, regardless of the historical truth.

“It’s amazing enough that a family-friendly movie with a Christian theme is nominated in any category for an Academy Award,” says the singer of “Alone Yet Not Alone,” Joni Eareckson Tada. “Besides [the hugely successful, pro-Christian Sandra Bullock movie] The Blind Side, which was wonderful, it’s just not the norm.”

Nor is Tada. A 64-year-old devout Christian with no professional training and barely any connection to the entertainment biz, who rarely even goes to the movies, Tada edged out competition from industry powerhouses Coldplay, Taylor Swift, and Lana del Rey. “I’m the least likely candidate to record a song for a movie, I’ll tell you that up front, so it’s amazing,” she says.

Least likely, indeed. Tada, who runs a charitable organization that distributes wheelchairs to kids in developing nations, has been a quadriplegic ever since a swimming accident at 17. Her lung capacity is so weak that her husband needed to push on her diaphragm to enable her to hit the high notes to record the song. “I cannot tell you how suicidal and despaired I was to know that I’d never use my legs and hands again. Suffering is something that either drives you away from God real fast or drives you to Him. I just happen to be one of those people who was driven to Him.”

She got involved with Alone Yet Not Alone when she sang at a Christian broadcaster’s conference in Nashville and reunited with friends who were raising money for the project. Her only prior professional experience was singing on a couple of records of religious hymns. “This is such an out-of-left-field thing. The God of the Bible delights in using ill-equipped, unskilled and untrained people in positions of great influence, everyone from Joseph to David. It’s all to show that it’s not by human prowess or brassiness, but all by God’s design. I don’t know if that’s what he’s doing here, but it’s worth giving pause and considering.”

Of the skeptics, Tada says,

I don’t blame those people. I’d be scratching my head, too… Yes, it’s unusual, but somebody must have liked the song very much. I don’t know how the process works, but I do know nobody twisted arms or pushed their influence… I think that the Academy recognizing this humble, good little song is rather wonderful.

“Alone Yet Not Alone” would seem to be a long shot at winning, and Tada’s questionable ability to perform live at the ceremony doesn’t help the song’s chances. But according to a poll at The Hollywood Reporter – “Which Should Win Best Song?” – a landslide of 79% of voters thus far have chosen Tada’s simple, heartfelt paean to God’s faithful presence. Maybe it’s time for those in Hollywood and the media who are uncomfortable with an unabashedly Christian song from a faith-based movie to get the message that they’re in the minority.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 1/27/14)