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Oscar Voting Controversy: Prejudice Toward Christians?

A scene from the movie Alone Yet Not Alone.


Photo ©AYNA, LLC AND ENTHUSE ENTERTAINMENT

A few days ago I wrote an article that gave an overview of how the voting process worked for various Hollywood awards—including the all-important Oscars. It turns out that while I was writing that item a storm was brewing that has brought a little known song, and it’s associated film, into the headlines.

The song is titled “Alone Yet Not Alone” and it’s written by longtime TV and motion picture composer Bruce Broughton. When the nominations were announced for the 86th Academy Awards, there were few surprises until the Original Song category came along. At the top of the list was Alone Yet Not Alone from a movie bearing the same name. It’s not surprising no one had heard of the film—it’s an independent Christian (often referred to as “faith based”) production that’s set to open in spring of 2014. However it’s also not uncommon for movies to have a “qualifying run” where they play on a couple of screens for a few days so they can qualify for Oscar and other award nominations that year. Yet, even so, typically there has been enough media buzz that virtually any title getting attention from Academy voters will be reasonably familiar.

So how did this unknown song edge out the likes of Taylor Swift (Sweeter Than Fiction from the movie One Chance) and Coldplay (Atlas from The Hunger Games)? It seems Mr. Broughton, who is a former Academy governor and head of the Academy’s music branch (each branch nominates within it’s own section—so music people nominate for music awards) hired a publicist to promote the song and then went one step further and emailed many of the people whom he knew in the branch and asked them to take a listen to the tune. With 75 songs in contention, it’s difficult to get yours noticed but the email campaign obviously worked.

Now this may sound like slimy back-room politicking, but it’s not unheard of. Studios, PR firms, independent producers and their mothers will go to great lengths to gain the attention of Academy voters. (Even in the organization I belong to, the Broadcast Film Critics Association, it is common to receive emails, letters and phone calls asking for you to consider their works.) Still, the Original Song category is somewhat bizarre in that the Academy compiles a special audio disc with all the songs on it that they have approved from the year. Only the title of the song and the movie with which it’s connected can be included with the disc. Of course the “bizarre” part of this is virtually anyone voting is well aware of who made a particular movie or wrote a specific song and if they don’t know who created the work they can find it in seconds on the Internet. It’s this very issue of anonymity that the Academy has with Mr. Broughton, in that he has used his privileges to contact “friends” and ask them to consider his music, thus revealing his identity.

So last Wednesday, January 29 2014 the Academy’s Board of Governors voted to rescind the nomination for Alone But Not Alone. Many see this as a hypocritical stance from the Academy that has chosen to overlook similar voting campaigns, while others view it as a guy who used his inside knowledge and simply broke the rules. Oscar winning producer Gerald Molen (Schindler’s List) goes one step further into the controversy by stating in a letter to the Academy’s president, “Many will see this decision as faith-based bigotry pure and simple.”

Was this a case of a Christian movie being snubbed? Or did Broughton deserve the consequences for his actions? At the very least the squabble will likely put a new light on questionable lobbying and voting behavior.

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