More Hubbub Over “Alone Yet Not Alone”

First off, after my last post about it several people told me I should’ve included a link to the song itself. While I can’t in good conscience recommend putting yourself through the torture of listening to it, I suppose I’m an enabler just by talking about it. I might as well go all the way and embed it. But you’re responsible for your own decisions…

Ever since the Academy rescinded the song’s Oscar nomination, it seems the story has only grown more controversial. The argument goes something like this:

Despite the fact that the nomination is an embarrassment that never should’ve happened in the first place, the punishment reeks of hypocrisy. According to a private investigator hired by the PR firm for one of the non-nominated songs, Bruce Broughton (the composer and former head of the Academy’s Music Branch) sent a personal email to about 70 of the branches 240-ish voting members. In the email he pointed to the long screener DVD that that all voters got, noting which track was his and asking voters not to overlook it.

The innocence of that request coming from an insider with a conflict of interest is debatable. But against the standard practices of well-funded campaigns by big studios – who regularly play on the fringes of the rules and whose PR firms are known to call up individual voters personally to ask for votes – this little email looks like a drop in the bucket. It didn’t even go out to a majority of the voters.

Now it looks a lot like the Academy is punishing the little guy, while the big guys go free. Why? Because they can; because it sends a statement; and because they can’t send that statement to the contenders with more lots of financial backing to fight it. Money money money.

After they announced the decision to rescind the nomination, there’s been a backlash in the press (who are entering that lull between Sundance and The Oscars where there’s less “real” news to report on). Last Saturday, in response to that backlash, the Academy released the following statement…

“The Board of Governors’ decision to rescind the Original Song nomination for ‘Alone Yet Not Alone,’ music by Bruce Broughton, was made thoughtfully and after careful consideration. The Academy takes very seriously anything that undermines the integrity of the Oscars voting process. The Board regretfully concluded that Mr. Broughton’s actions did precisely that.

“The nominating process for Original Song is intended to be anonymous, with each eligible song listed only by title and the name of the film in which it is used — the idea being to prevent favoritism and promote unbiased voting. It’s been a long-standing policy and practice of the Academy — as well as a requirement of Rule 5.3 of the 86th Academy Awards Rules —­­ to omit composer and lyricist credits from the DVD of eligible songs that are sent to members of the Music Branch. The Academy wants members to vote for nominees based solely on the achievement of a particular song in a movie, without regard to who may have written it.

“Mr. Broughton sent an email to at least 70 of his fellow Music Branch members — nearly one-third of the branch’s 240 members. When he identified the song as track #57 as one he had composed, and asked voting branch members to listen to it, he took advantage of information that few other potential nominees are privy to. As a former Academy Governor and current member of the Music Branch’s executive committee, Mr. Broughton should have been more cautious about acting in a way that made it appear as if he were taking advantage of his position to exert undue influence. At a minimum, his actions called into question whether the process was ‘fair and equitable,’ as the Academy’s rules require. The Academy is dedicated to doing everything it can to ensure a level playing field for all potential Oscar contenders — including those who don’t enjoy the access, knowledge, and influence of a long-standing Academy insider.”

Broughton, meanwhile, continued to defend himself in an interview with the music composition software company Sibelius. (The bulk of the interview is about his musical process and use of their software, but he discusses the the Oscar controversy too.)

So was it the wrong move to take away his nomination (along with that of his lyricist)? Broughton’s influence within the branch obviously holds clout. People respect him. Either it’s a good-ol’-boys club or voters must believe that his position in the industry can be helpful to their careers if they vote for him. Otherwise there is no way such an objectively terrible song would’ve received enough votes to get nominated. Of course that’s just my speculation, but if I’m thinking it I’m sure others are too.

No one believes the Academy is capable, or necessarily even wants to, change campaign practices that have evolved over decades. But if the don’t draw a line on this kind of insider vote-grabbing, it’ll become precedent and only get worse and worse. The process is already nightmare of political backdoor haggling. It’s the least they can do to try and stem the tide and preserve the slightest shred of dignity for their Awards.

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