Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Alone Yet Not Alone" Gets Disqualified from the Best Original Song Category

News has recently come out that Best Original Song nominee Alone Yet Not Alone has been rescinded from the category. The nomination itself came as a surprise when the contenders were announced a week and a half ago. Nobody knew what the film was nor had heard the actual song that beat out songs from more legitimate contenders such as The Great Gatsby and 12 Years a Slave. So what are the reasons behind this strange move and why is this a big deal? The truth is that the craziest Oscar nomination of the year was probably because of a bias beyond that of being an uplifting religious song.

To a large extent, the titular track from Alone Yet Not Alone stuck out for a sore thumb for numerous reasons. The most notable remains that nobody has heard of the film outside of a limited release back in September with the expansion not happening until this upcoming June. It almost seems unfair for it to even be qualified. Even then, it seems strange that this song managed to beat out more noticeable songs that have been in discussions and have even been played on the radio. True, with exception to Frozen's "Let It Go," there hasn't been as dominant a front runner as last year's Skyfall song "Skyfall," but it feels like the switch-up with the nominations this year backfired.

Here is the song in question, as performed by Joni Eareckson Tada:

In all respects, it is a harmless song. With sweeping melodies and all of the penchant nature of hymns, it does feel apropos for a song from a film that features the tagline "Their faith becomes their freedom." But even then, in a year with pleasant surprise nominees like Her and Philomena, this one took the cake if just because it never made sense. Then again, the Best Original Song category has rarely been consistent, whether in terms of nominees or performances (more on that later).

Much like the revelation that the Academy is older, white males that appeared a few years ago, this falls into a somewhat predictable camp as well. Not that the older, white male voters are responsible for bad decisions, but that it plays into something that I refer to as Oscar Bias. There are certain performers who have managed to slide into nominations just on their charming relationship with the Academy (see: Meryl Streep). Even past members have gotten advantages based on their connections (see: Jon Blair's Anne Frank Remembered winning Best Documentary Feature in a year that saw the excision of the acclaimed Hoop Dreams from the category*) . This is another one of them.

*Editor's Note: This information is inaccurate as Hoop Dreams would have been nominated in 1995 and Anne Frank Remembered in 1996. At no point would these two have been in direct competition for Best Documentary. Also, Jon Blair had no personal involvement with the Academy prior to this nomination.

The person in question this time is Bruce Broughton, who was a former Governor of the Academy as well as current member of the Music Branch. He was also the composer for the song "Alone Yet Not Alone." In this instance, he e-mailed voters and tried to persuade them to vote for the song. Whether it came from the shock of it actually being nominated or through some external discovery, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs deemed it unfair for Broughton to use his powers and credibility to earn voters. Through this measure, the song has been rescinded.

Lana Del Rey

With this in mind and the nominee announcement only a week and a half ago, the Academy has also stated that it won't replace the slot with another nominee. This isn't the most egregious error that they have done to the Best Original Song category in recent years, but it does throw off the balance. There is some charm that comes to having five nominees. It feels even with most of the other categories. This one in particular felt really strong and had a lot of potential selections worthy of replacing it. The question is: How hard is it to look at voting and just pick the sixth selection? It makes no sense.

It is a strange category that sometimes feels excised from the Academy Awards in general. While last year saw a ceremony featuring the subject of musicals, it was lacking in the subject. With exception to Les Miserables and Chicago performances, the ceremony felt stripped. Even the Best Original Song nominees felt like they suffered from a bias, with not all of them being performed live. Some years they don't even get that far. It is a confusing mess.

The biggest offense probably remains 2011, when there were all of TWO nominations. The song selections, "Real in Rio" from Rio and "Man or a Muppet" from The Muppets was an embarrassing competition simply because the latter had a lot more eligible titles to call from. Even the sense that nobody cared about the Rio song made it the least exciting Oscar race of the decade. A category would have to come up with less nominees for it to be more offensively boring. In years before, and since, the nominations have luckily been vast and many. Still, that remains the least inventive moment in Oscar history.

Much like the problematic Best Original Score category, the Best Original Song is one that almost feels more subjective than any other category. Sometimes the music is based off of the performer's popularity (see: Adele for "Skyfall") or how melodically somber (see: Once - "Falling Slowly). Only rarely does it stream into confusing winners such as hip-hop tracks like Three 6 Mafia's "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" or Eminem's "Lose Yourself." It shows ambitious change, but those mostly feel like they are responding to this sense that the Academy isn't racially aware of more than white-centric movies. 

Either way, I am fine with the category as it stands, though it does feel like it dropped the ball. It isn't like the ceremony is in two weeks. It is in March, with plenty of time to even do reconsideration voting. It is great that the Academy called themselves on their own fault this time, but shouldn't a different song replace it just out of fairness? This move feels greedy and while "Let it Go" is looking to already take the category, it feels like it is only making the race tighter and less interesting as a result. Interesting in a pejorative sense, anyways.

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