Oscar Scandal: 3 Ways the Academy Could Change its Tune

Joni Eareckson Tada

“Shocking,” “unprecedented,” and “devastated” were just some of the reactions to Wednesday’s revoked Oscar nomination for the song “Alone Yet Not Alone.” But while the flap left everybody feeling bruised, it could hasten long overdue changes at the Academy.

Here’s a few ways the Academy could handle a sticky situation to benefit both voters and competitors.

The Academy needs to clarify campaign rules: Online, many people outside the industry have expressed outrage at the notion of campaigning. Many people inside the industry were wondering why some other more aggressive campaigns were OK, but not this.

In fact, campaigning is part of Hollywood’s DNA. Awards campaigning is an extension the heavy promotion movies need to get noticed, and goes back to Oscar’s earliest days.

Composer Bruce Broughton had sent an email to 70 of the music branch’s 240 voters, pointing out that his song was #57 on the DVD that contained clips of all 75 eligible songs. He pointed out that “Alone Yet Not Alone” was a small, independent faith-based film and might be overlooked. The music branch toppers decreed he had broken no rules, but on Tuesday the board decided otherwise.

Presumably, if Broughton’s email had come from a third-party publicist and not mentioned his name, the outreach would have been acceptable. As Acad president Cheryl Boone Isaacs made clear in a statement Wednesday, someone who’s a former governor and current exec committee member cannot “personally promote one’s own Oscar submission” because it “creates the appearance of an unfair advantage.”

The Acad every year does post-mortems about the campaign season, so the 2014 rules will undoubtedly address direct outreach to voters — particularly as it applies to AMPAS higher-ups. As the old saying goes, Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.

It’s time to overhaul the music branch: One can’t help thinking that Broughton’s email was the final straw for the board, after frequent accusations of music-branch cronyism. Other branches have worked hard to shed the out-of-touch reputation that’s a holdover from the Academy’s low point in the 1970s. But the music branch has not had a major overhaul, with many Academy members complaining to Variety on Wednesday that too many branch members are not active in the film business and that the realities of the current industry are not represented.

Music branch governors are Charles Fox, Arthur Hamilton and David Newman. All are talented, genial and hard-working. But collectively, they have scored 17 feature films in the past decade — and Newman accounts for 16 of the 17.

And every year, the music branch fails to nominate terrific songs by big-name composers. This year’s roster of overlooked artists includes Beyonce, Coldplay, Jay Z, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift.

That fuels another frequent criticism: That many branch members resent non-traditional composers, considering them Hollywood outsiders. Apparently they’re longing for the good old days of the Sherman brothers and Sammy Cahn, composers who made a living from movie songs.

And finally, how about inviting the “Alone” singer to the Oscars: As a goodwill move, ask to quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada (in photo above) to sing on the March 2 show. She could perform without a mention of the nomination or withdrawal. Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron have said that the theme of the show is heroes and Tada is certainly qualified on that count.

As a quadriplegic with limited lung capacity, she may be wary of singing live; no prob. Just show a film clip of her singing, including shots of her husband Ken pushing on her diaphragm to give her enough breath to hit the high notes. Then bring her onstage in a guaranteed tearjerker highlight of the Oscarcast.

In addition, this would address another criticism. Since “Alone Yet Not Alone” is from an independent Christian movie, some have seen the revoking as one more example of Hollywood’s anti-religious bias.

Clearly Broughton, lyricist Dennis Spiegel and the filmmakers are disappointed. But in the “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” category, this revocation has put a spotlight on the song and the film that would never have happened otherwise.

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  1. Jeff Sherman says:

    As the son of one of the Sherman Brothers, mentioned in this article, I feel it important to remind this author that the concept of “best song” written for a film is a different from say the Grammys or the many many other music awards given each year. Members of the Academy look not to what’s necessarily popular or on the charts because a pop number playing over the end credits was written and/or sung by a superstar like a Taylor Swift, Coldplay or Jay Z. I deeply respect those artists, but similar to other categories in the Oscars, a feature film’s ‘best song’ isn’t simply a good single. It should enhance and inform the motion picture and be interwoven into the film’s story. Most of the ‘gray hairs’ you refer to that populate the music branch of the Academy understand this and (hopefully) cast their vote accordingly. Taylor and Beyonce can (and do) fill their shelves with trophies for the popularity contests. In theory — and often in practice — the Academy Award goes to a song that progresses and enhances the film itself.

  2. bgtaylor4 says:

    Would like to see the Academy begin to nominate ALL categories for films released 10 years ago. In other words, films released in 2014 would be nominated and honored in the 2024 Oscar ceremony. Meantime (starting in 2015) retrospectively honor films previously overlooked which now easily make lists of “can’t believe this film/actor/director/song” didn’t get an Oscar. As well all know films are placed near the end of the year for Oscar consideration. A 10-year wait allows a film to get legs, to be seen in perspective to other (often similar films/genres) other films in terms of longevity and merit.

  3. I don’t believe Beyonce, Coldplay, Jay Z, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift are capable of writing music that is Oscar worthy. I was extremely disappointed in the musical choices Jay Z made for “The Great Gatsby.” He should have used modern recordings of the music of the day, jazz.

  4. joestemme says:

    Another rule the Academy should update is the Qualifying Run one. All movies should have to play IN Los Angeles proper. AND, they should have to take out decent sized ads in the LA TIMES, WEEKLY etc. AND, they should have to screen for all local critics and be reviewed citywide. AND, they have show with full showtimes – none of this, one time per day at 10pm B.S. some of these qualifying runs do.

    If those rules had been in place and ALONE YET NOT ALONE had screened properly this likely would never have happened. Instead, the movie was allowed a stealth campaign by playing unplicized in the valley.

    P.S. Exceptions to this rule can be made for Shorts and Documentaries. But, any movie vying for all the other prizes should have to have genuine releases.

  5. J. Cullum says:

    As a film marketing executive known for her past Oscar campaigns, AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs has a vested interest in making sure that individuals do not promote their own work for award consideration. Her view of the situation is biased.

  6. Nanny Mo says:

    Interesting, but if the Academy caves to the whims of the public (like so many American institutions have done) it will lose its relevancy as entertainment’s number one awards granting institution. And, considering who the rule breaker was (one who knew better), it’s best to ride the wave of outrage. It’s just like the Superbowl, next year there will be a whole lot of newbies fighting for their chance and last year’s dogs are just past tense.

  7. bob says:

    Good article – lots of good points, addressed well – thank you…

  8. Lisa says:

    ‘As a goodwill move’ invite her to sing on the show as long as she doesn’t talk about how they humiliated her? What? How patronizing! Get real Variety. She may be ‘disabled’ but she’s not stupid.

  9. Ivan says:

    First – drop this silly song category all together. Next, ban all this ‘For your consideration’ advertising. It unfairly allows companies with large PR budgets to succeed against smaller films. Maybe then it will be quality that is used to judge, not who has the best publicity campaign.

    • cadavra says:

      You’re right. The category made sense in the old days when all the studios made musicals, but now it’s just a gimme for songwriters who scribble something for the end credits (when audiences have gotten up and left anyway). If an exceptional song comes along, then give it a special Oscar (as they used to do for make-up and choreography). Eliminating it also saves a big chunk of time on the broadcast, as it’s five less musical numbers to sit through.

  10. Dmknyc says:

    Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Jay Z, Coldplay, Lana del Ray-if they were nominated AND performing their FULL songs, that would do wonders for the telecast in buzz and the all important 18-49 demo.

  11. EK says:

    Hopefully the producers will resist the suggestion to create a guaranteed tearjerker highlight for the Oscarcast, especially using an artificial pretext as an excuse. The issue is a political football not a pretext for TV exploitation.

  12. Leslie Sole says:

    This is about the ethics of the applicant, the Academy must remain a full arms length. So we need not argue about campaigns and the like.
    One man lost his judgement. Apologize and depend on future people to be trusted not to stain the process.
    Inside is inside. Let’s move on.

    • PhilG says:

      If the report above is accurate and complete, how is it “campaigning” to make sure (some of) the voters actually a) remember to consider the minor outsider, and b) know where to find it..!

      If they’ll really be voting on four or five songs based on a 75-song long DVD, it’s surely a fairly sensible move to make sure they know which and where…

      Obviously, this broke a rule. But conflating “rule-breaking” with an unethical attempt to influence the vote seems both harsh and unfair.

  13. DTE says:

    They were right to revoke their nomination. Yes, other films campaign and such but at least their nominations are credible, whereas this was an awful song from a movie no one saw. It was painfully obvious that this nomination was gained through cronyism and nothing else.

    • John in LA says:

      Really? You saw this “awful” movie and can decide whether the song deserves to be nominated based on its usage in the film? A few years ago, one of the producers of The Hurt Locker sent some e-mails to Academy members promoting his film and he was ruled ineligible to attend the ceremony. This time they revoke the nomination altogether. Why? Because they can push around a small film. Can you imagine the Hollywood outrage if they had disqualified Hurt Locker from Best Picture consideration?

      • DTE says:

        No, I didn’t see the movie because nobody has. But the song was on Youtube and is dreadful. No musician would think it even tolerable, let alone the “best.” The only scenario that in which it is perfect for a film is if the film was about how a music branch executive wrote a terrible song but used his influence to get members to nominate it anyhow.

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