The Academy turns a fishy situation into an embarrassing moment for all
When the title track for the independent faith-based production "Alone Yet Not Alone" picked up a Best Original Song Oscar nomination on Jan. 16, we at HitFix were the first to raise an eyebrow at the curiosity. One of the song's writers, Bruce Broughton, had formerly served as an Academy governor, making the whole situation smell a bit fishy.
It soon came out that he had directly campaigned on the song's behalf by sending notes to some of his fellow Music Branch members asking them to consider it. But my reaction at the time was "big deal." So the guy reached out to a few people. This happens every day of every Oscar campaign season and anyone who tells you different is either clueless or naive. But when Nikki Finke first Tweeted this afternoon that she had heard the Academy was about to announce a repeal of that nomination due to campaign violations, I started to feel bad for all involved.
It was revealed in the days following the Oscar nomination that a PR firm representing one of the songs that was not nominated hired a private investigator to dig up the truth. I can't speak to that report's veracity because it leaned purely on anonymous sourcing, but it certainly didn't seem far from desperate reality when it comes to Hollywood. So perhaps all of the publicity was enough to force the Academy's hand. Either way, it's a hugely hypocritical thing to have done.
If the Academy is going to go after Broughton, "then they should start coming after all of us," one industry insider not affiliated with any of the nominees and who had no skin in the Best Original Song game this season told me. "They should look at everyone and not just wait for someone to forward them an email from a guy who said 'listen to my song.' It seems really punitive and over the top."
Because that's all that happened here. A guy with contacts sent a few emails asking people to listen to his submission. He hired a firm originally to get the word out but it was drowned out by other campaigns.
Which brings me to another point. "No matter how well-intentioned the communication," Cheryl Boone Isaacs' statement in the Academy's press release reads, "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."
How can you begin to frame this as an issue of fairness? What's fair about access to studio funds versus a tiny independent production like this? The other three songs in the category are performed by Grammy-winning and nominated artists like U2, Karen O and Pharrell Williams. The third is belted by a Tony-winning goddess of the stage. What's fair about that sort of inherent exposure versus that of a quadriplegic Evangelical minister you've never heard of before?
Don't get me wrong. I didn't find "Alone Yet Not Alone" to be nomination-worthy in the slightest. And I think the music branch probably deserves a hard look for a few reasons not necessarily limited to this. But the idea that it's not fair for a guy to send a few emails in the face of the kind of rule-bending campaign shenanigans we see each and every year is sort of beyond.
Was it to make an example? That seems to be what some are thinking this afternoon. Because why not just revoke Broughton's Oscar tickets, as the Academy did for a similar email dust-up with "The Hurt Locker" producer Nicolas Chartier in 2010? Why not throw some of this rhetoric at actress Ann Dowd when she personally spent upwards of $13,000 to send DVD screeners of the film "Compliance" to voters, regardless of whether she was nominated or not (she wasn't)?
Neither of those circumstances really required anything other than a stern slap on the wrist, to be perfectly honest, and that seems the case here, too. So the lack of consistency is unfortunate. And the result is an Academy first. You can read all the nifty stats about which other nominations have been rescinded in the past, but all of them stemmed from eligibility issues, i.e., those contenders shouldn't have been in the running to begin with. This is the first time, to my knowledge, a nomination has been revoked due to alleged campaign malpractice. So with that in mind, you can't really take it as anything other than a warning shot across the bows of studios. It's just too bad it had to be something this small that was used as the hammer for that nail.
"I'm devastated," Broughton said in a statement soon after the news dropped today. "I indulged in the simplest grassroots campaign and it went against me when the song started getting attention. I got taken down by competition that had months of promotion and advertising behind them. I simply asked people to find the song and consider it."
That's all this time of year is about, anyway. To get people to take a look (or listen). The Academy is basically admitting with this decision that its membership is a flock of sheep. (Whether that's true or not is another discussion entirely.) But I hope those behind that un-nominated song — which doesn't get the benefit of being tossed into the category as the Academy won't be adding a new nominee — are proud of themselves. The whole thing is more of a farce now than it was on Jan. 16.