A Major Oscar Dust-Up Over A Song From A Minor Movie
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
When the Oscar nominees for best song were announced earlier this month, there were, of course, several well-known titles, including Karen O's "The Moon Song," from the movie "Her"; and Pharrell Williams' "Happy," from "Despicable Me 2." Then there was this...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALONE...YET NOT ALONE")
JONI EARECKSON TADA: (Singing) I will not be bent in fear. He's the refuge I know is near...
SIMON: The song, "Alone...Yet Not Alone," comes from a very small budget Christian movie of the same name. It was composed by Bruce Broughton, with lyrics by Dennis Speigel. But this week, the Academy's board of governors disqualified the song and said that Mr. Broughton, a former member of the academy's board of governors, had taken unfair advantage of his position when he sent an e-mail to branch members asking them to consider his submission.
Scott Feinberg, of the "Hollywood Reporter," has been following the ensuing scandal. He joins us from the studios of NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.
SCOTT FEINBERG: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: You've been following this from the beginning. This nomination was unexpected, right?
FEINBERG: Absolutely. I was right in the front row as the nominations were announced on the 16th of January. And few people - even, you know, people like myself, who cover this stuff very closely, for a living - had ever even heard of the movie. And there were so many higher profile and really, more acclaimed options that when this first nomination was announced - 'cause alphabetically, it was the first of all the nominations announced this year - people were really kind of taken aback.
SIMON: I mean, there's always a little bit of - or more than a little bit of kvetching when the nominations are announced. But I gather that there were actually private investigations that were convened.
FEINBERG: Well, yeah. The nominations for the original song category are determined by the academy's music branch, of which Mr. Broughton was the former governor. And so, you know, there were some - immediately, some suspicions that perhaps he had tried to influence these other 239 people whom he had represented up until 2012.
One of the snubbed songs, the PR team behind that song hired a private investigator 'cause they just felt that it was fishy, that something didn't seem right about this.
SIMON: So the allegation that he took unfair advantage of his position - I mean, did he throw lavish parties? Did he send voting members - I don't know, a Rolls Royce? You know...
SIMON: ...swag bags, or something like we see at Oscar parties?
FEINBERG: No. I have actually seen the e-mail that he sent. I can't tell you exactly how many members of the music branch he sent it to, but it was basically a pretty tame request that they consider his song; very short and very - really, sweet. There was no sort of threatening nature to it; there was no quid pro quo. Really, to me, it does seem like an - I have to say, a bit of an overreaction because when you look even at the other songs that are nominated this year, their campaigns have been very aggressive. And I don't begrudge them that. They are allowed to do that. Everybody is very competitive.
SIMON: That's the business, right? I mean...
FEINBERG: That's the business. You know, they have deeper-pocketed studios behind them; they have more famous people who sing their songs, and so they get more coverage. I mean, the person who sings "Alone...Yet Not Alone" is a quadriplegic minister who is not a professional singer.
SIMON: Yes, you found the reasoning nebulous, right?
FEINBERG: Yeah. I think it's clear that they would frown upon this sort of thing. But I can't pinpoint an academy rule, and I've really tried to look. And when you consider precedence, there are fewer than a dozen nominations that have been rescinded for one reason or another, over the 86-year history of the Oscars. And the things that have been done that were not punished in such a way, most recently when a producer of "The Hurt Locker," after it had been nominated, e-mailed academy members telling them don't vote for "Avatar," you know, and sort of disparaging that movie - all that happened to him was, he lost the opportunity to attend the Oscars at which his movie won.
SIMON: I have to ask you, Scott Feinberg, does this - for some people, is this going to reinforce the idea that Hollywood is somehow hostile to religious movies, religion, Christian culture?
FEINBERG: I've read some of that online, where people are reacting in that way. But I will say that knowing the academy and the fact that - like in any large organization, you know - their board of governors and their members can barely agree what day of the week it is. So to agree on some sort of a conspiracy is giving them almost too much organizational credit. (Laughter)
SIMON: Scott Feinberg, of the Hollywood Reporter. Thanks very much for being with us.
FEINBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.