This week marks the first time that an Oscar nominee has been stripped of their nomination for violating campaigning rules. Alone Yet Not Alone, a Christian drama film, was nominated for Best Original Song – a surprise at the time, largely due to the fact that most `people had never even heard of the movie in the first place. As it turned out, the small independent film was fronted by a man named Bruce Broughton…a former Academy Governor. This raised enough hackles in Hollywood, and stirred enough publicity buzz, that it soon became public knowledge that Broughton had directly campaigned for the song to be nominated by emailing some of his friends and contacts in the Music Branch of the Academy. Subsequently, the Academy Board of Directors voted to rescind the film’s Oscar nod because of Broughton’s actions, which they deemed “were inconsistent with the Academy’s promotional regulations”. You can read the Academy’s full press release.
Now, I’m no expert on the inner workings of the Academy Awards, but it really seems like everyone involved here is just shooting themselves in the foot. Repeatedly. The Oscars are coming off a rough couple of years publicity wise – people remember the hosting trainwreck that was James Franco and Anne Hathaway far better than whoever won Best Picture that year, and Seth MacFarlane’s unorthodox stylings generated more unfortunate buzz than even the most strained acceptance speech last spring. With Ellen DeGeneres returning to host this year’s awards, Oscar and his compatriots are looking to revitalize the show for a wide audience – and unfortunately for Alone, it looks as if they’ve decided even the smallest controversy is the last thing they need.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t envy the Academy Governors in this situation one bit. No matter what decision they made, backlash was going to come from some corner or the other – but in truth, that’s where the problem lies, in the cynicism and elitism that so often rears its head in situations like these. In his excellent post on the situation over at Hitflix, Kristopher Tapley hits the nail on the head when he notes that the original situation raised few eyebrows. “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.”
I recognize that Hollywood is a business – but at what point did we stop setting that aside and remembering to celebrate the wonder of film and the magic of moviemaking? It’s pretty clear that insider campaigning is a regular thing, sad as that sounds, and singling out a nominee as the Academy did this year won’t do anything to stop it. In fact, it’s doubly harmful – now, perhaps, less prominent directors, actors, and writers will be so wary of punishment, they won’t even be willing to stick their necks out for their work during awards season. Now, obviously awards aren’t (or shouldn’t be) what it’s all about, but getting one – or even getting a nomination – does wonders for the profitability and visibility of any film. There are many films out there that deserve far more attention than they’re getting. If only it could be seen as in everyone’s best interest to, for example, fill out the newly expanded Best Picture category with some of these less-recognized gems, or see that the net of recognition was cast wider in any way, we would all be better off.
What’s really so unfortunate is that this unusual situation is merely a symptom of the narrow focus of the Oscars. It’s sad that Broughton felt he needed to reach out to people directly for them to even notice the film he was a part of making. If the Oscars were well and truly about finding the best in film each year, budget and star power wouldn’t figure into the equation as strongly as they do. When I was younger, I used to be thrilled to watch the Oscar telecast. It was an adventure to stay up for three and a half hours to find out what the Best Picture of the year was, or to try and see as many nominated films as I could before Oscar night. To some degree, it still is, but incidents like these do quite a bit to tarnish the look of that golden statue and remind me that there’s more business than magic about the Oscars these days.