Thursday, February 6, 2014

Was a Christian Song Wrongly Denied an Oscar Nom?

No sooner had I posted on Acculturated about the surprise “Best Song” Oscar nomination for “Alone Yet Not Alone,” the overtly Christian theme song to a faith-based movie of the same name, than that nomination was rescinded over an allegation that the songwriter had improperly influenced the voting. Such a revocation is so rare in Oscar history, that many are now wondering: was the song unfairly singled out due to anti-Christian bias?

Composer Bruce Broughton, a longtime Academy exec, was stripped of the nomination ostensibly because he emailed some of his fellow members during the nominations voting period, urging them to consider the obscure song. The Academy’s president said that “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.”

But The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg noted that the Academy didn’t even cite which rule Broughton supposedly violated. Feinberg read one of Broughton’s emails “and saw no evidence that he had ‘thrown his weight around’ as an ex-Academy official”; in fact,

[j]ust about every individual and every studio with any hope of an Oscar nomination or win – including those with far deeper pockets than Broughton and Alone Yet Not Alone’s backers – campaigns for it, usually far more aggressively than did Broughton… [W]as Broughton supposed to sit back and do nothing while his competitors were going all-out with their campaigns? That expectation strikes me as unfair.

In an ironic coincidence on the same day as the announced revocation, Vulture posted a lengthy look at the heavy-handed Oscar campaigning of legendary Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein, whose films have raked in over 300 nominations in 25 years “through a mix of big schmoozy events, whisper campaigns, and old-school cold-calling.”

The litany of Weinstein’s guerrilla tactics is jaw-dropping. It includes intense one-on-one lobbying, paying a fleet of veteran Hollywood publicists to schmooze prominent Academy members, hosting star-studded events for his nominees to which Academy members were invited, spending millions on Oscar campaigns (at least $5 million on Shakespeare in Love, for example), perpetrating smear campaigns against his competition, sending for-your-consideration e-mails, and even secretly hiring Obama’s deputy campaign manager to help promote The Silver Linings Playbook. The list goes on and on. In contrast to Weinstein, Broughton’s transgression is microscopically minor.

Some have said, “So what if the nomination was revoked? The song wasn’t that good anyway.” Enough Academy voters begged to differ, but that isn’t the issue. Feinberg didn’t think the song deserved a nom, “but do I think that they deserved to have their Oscar nomination rescinded by the Academy? On the basis of the evidence that the Academy has supplied and in the context of how most contenders campaign for Oscars these days: No, I do not.”

Openly conservative producer Gerald Molen (Schindler’s List) shot off a letter to his colleagues, complaining that “the Academy has suddenly discovered lobbying in the case of this one song?” Then he pointed out the larger impact of this decision – the message it sends about Hollywood:

Many will see this decision as faith-based bigotry pure and simple… Critics will pounce and accuse us of being out of touch and needlessly offending middle America by stripping this song – a song sung by a quadriplegic hero [Joni Eareckson Tada] to evangelical Christians who has captured the imagination of the American people – of its nomination. In my humble opinion, it seems to me that this has turned a Cinderella story that America loves into a story of the wicked stepmother who wants to keep her daughter from the ball, with we the Academy cast as the villain.

(Tada won’t be missing the ball entirely. The Christian Hollywood watchdog organization Movieguide responded to the controversy by booking her to perform the song at its 22nd annual Faith & Values Awards Gala.)

If “the rules are the rules” as some are saying, then hold everyone accountable for them. Molen is correct: the Academy’s mistake was to single out a low-budget, powerless Christian film whose values resonate with middle America; eliminating it from competition based on a very narrow interpretation of vague rules is further confirmation in the minds of many Americans that Hollywood has contempt for “the flyover people” of faith between the coasts.

Gerald Molen called on the Academy “to reconsider this decision and restore the song and fairness and integrity to our process.” If it does, that might be one small step toward placating Christian audiences that the entertainment biz too often alienates.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 2/3/14)