"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.
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.
Oscar Scandal: 3 Ways the Academy Could Change its Tune
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