The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rescinded its Best Original Song nomination for “Alone Yet Not Alone,” the theme song from the independent Christian film of the same name, earlier this week, claiming its composer lobbied for votes in violation of academy ethics rules. But a review of recent history shows academy leaders have applied the rules sporadically, lending credibility to claims they singled out the song for its content, not its journey to the nomination list.
In an announcement made Wednesday, the academy objected to composer Bruce Broughton—a former academy governor who is currently among the leaders of its music branch—personally emailing academy voters to request their consideration for the song’s nomination. Academy leaders felt it created “the appearance of an unfair advantage.”
Broughton told Variety he was “devastated” by the nomination’s revocation and defended his action as a simple “grass roots effort” compared to the big budget Oscar campaigning producers, directors, and composers commonly engaged in.
Indeed, a recent history of the academy shows it’s awash in money-centered influence. The Washington Post reported that Oscar-specific marketing campaigns reach into the “tens of millions,” sometimes exceeding the cost of the film itself in order to “exchange profit for prestige.” Britain’s Guardian estimated that one year’s campaigning, by all studios combined, added up to about $60 million “on newspaper advertising, billboards, and other less public and less legitimate marketing tricks.”
An article yesterday in the Vulture detailed many of the stunts and iffy campaign tactics of Harvey Weinstein, founder of Miramax. In one instance, Weinstein got former academy president (and director of The Sound of Music) Robert Wise to write an op-ed praising Weinstein’s movie Gangs of New York. It was later discovered that a publicist wrote the op-ed and just had the 88-year-old Wise sign it.
Publicist Mark Urman is also quoted from his book Down and Dirty Pictures describing how Miramax Studio “set up screenings at the Motion Picture Retirement Home, because academy members live there, even if they’re on life support. They find out where people holiday in the period between Christmas and New Year’s, and if it’s in Aspen, they have screenings in Aspen. If it’s in Hawaii, they have screenings in Hawaii. They actually called people at home.” Other specific violations of academy standards are recounted, without any corresponding chastisement from the organization.
The academy released new campaign rules in 2012, but to questionable effect. The rules limit direct lobbying of academy members, but only between the time of the nomination and the award show, according to The Washington Post. But according to several filmmakers, it’s the time before the nominations that’s most important because “it’s nominations—not wins—that can make a difference.” And in a step backward, filmmakers are now allowed to directly invite academy members to promotional events and cocktail parties, as long as it’s prior to nomination, where before this was expressly forbidden.
While covering the Broughton story, Variety quoted a portion of the academy regulations: “It is the academy’s goal to ensure that the awards competition is conducted in a fair and ethical manner.”
The revocation of Broughton’s nomination was an attempt to enforce those ethical standards, but the question is whether the academy is straining out a gnat while swallowing a camel. As an insider, Broughton is held to a higher standard. But if the academy is serious about implementing those ethical standards, it has a lot of work ahead. One studio executive summed up to the Guardian how he felt about participating in the annual Oscar campaigns: “I feel like every day we need to take a shower.”