Commentary: Academy's 'ethics' hit sour note
In a world where Woody Allen can get a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes at the same time his adopted daughter accuses him of sexually abusing her when she was a child (Allen has repeatedly denied it), and where a film, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” sets a record for use of the F-word, it is a wonderment that an obscure, low-budget film called “Alone Yet Not Alone” has had its Best Original Song Oscar nomination withdrawn for allegedly violating ethical rules.
The Los Angeles Times writes that Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, “told The Times that the ‘key point’ in the academy’s nullification of (songwriter Bruce) Broughton’s nomination was its violation of Rule 5.3, requiring that the credits of composer and lyricist be removed from the DVD of eligible songs sent to members of the music branch.
“‘The idea,’ Isaacs says, ‘is that people are voting solely for the song and not who wrote it.’ By emailing branch members, Broughton, a former academy governor and current member of the music branch’s executive committee, violated that anonymity.”
Big-budget films spend large amounts of money campaigning for Oscars with full-page ads in Variety and other trade publications, as well as glitzy parties for Academy members. Studios send DVDs “for your consideration” to members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). Is any of that campaigning anonymous? How does a low-budget film with far fewer resources get noticed, if not by campaigning? Why does emailing voters, even if a technicality was breached, violate the rules when splashy ads, parties and the mailing of DVDs to Academy members do not?
One clue may be in the visceral reaction to the film itself from the secular-progressive left. It is a movie made by a Christian group. Despite a record of large profits and high TV ratings for films with a Christian message, they continue to embarrass some filmmakers, who apparently think Americans spend their days swearing at one another, having promiscuous sex, shooting people, blowing up stuff and driving fast.
In a smarmy article on The Daily Beast website titled “Bible Thumpers’ Oscar Fail,” the film is characterized as having been made by an independent group headed by a “sugar daddy of the religious right” and members of “the right-wing evangelical filmmaking world.” Maybe the film should be rated “W” for wholesomeness and its message about God not abandoning people in distress. Does the secular left fear such a film might lead some people to rely on a power higher than the federal government?
It’s doubtful any of the film’s critics have seen the movie as it had only a one-week run last September in selected cities to qualify for Oscar consideration. A wider release is scheduled for this summer, but the secular left only has to hear “evangelical,” “conservative” and above all “Christian” to set them attacking like rabid dogs.
If anyone cares about the film’s plot at this point, the website Yahoo! Movies describes it as “an alleged true-life tale from 1755 of two young sisters kidnapped by Native Americans after a raid on their family farm.” The girls maintain their faith, which helps them endure and overcome their circumstances. The production company, Enthuse Entertainment, based in San Antonio, Texas, describes itself as making “God-honoring, faith-based, family-friendly films that inspire the human spirit to seek and know God.” Given this parentage, it’s a miracle the song was nominated.
The title song is sung by painter, author and speaker Joni Earackson Tada, a quadriplegic, who is known and respected among many evangelicals. Whether “Alone Yet Not Alone” deserves an Oscar should be up to the voters, not the Academy hierarchy. Whatever its merits, the title sounds more appealing than the 2005 Best Original Song winner, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.”
Maybe the only bad publicity is no publicity. The controversy over this song has lifted the film from obscurity. Regardless, the Academy should restore the song’s nomination because of the clear advantage in money, promotion — and, yes, campaigning — that other nominated songs have enjoyed.