Like David versus Goliath, an upstart Christian film has shocked the world by winning an unlikely victory in the form of an Academy Award nomination.
Only this time, the crowds aren't cheering for David.
Instead, mainstream-media Oscar watchers across the nation have blasted the Academy for choosing the hymn-like testament to God's presence over hits by pop artists like Jay-Z and Taylor Swift.
"I can't figure any of this s--- out," an unnamed competitor told the Hollywood Reporter, or THR, after learning his or her song was beaten out by "Alone Yet Not Alone," the title song from the faith-themed movie of the same name.
"It is difficult to understand why 'Alone Yet Not Alone' snagged an Oscar nomination over more acclaimed and high-profile competitors," THR remarked, claiming multiple people whose songs were snubbed by Academy's music branch wonder how "a song that has been heard by virtually no one outside the branch from a film that hardly anyone has seen" secured an Oscar nomination.
Across the country, dozens of Hollywood-watching publications were quick to heap criticism on "Alone Yet Not Alone."
The Wire called the song "the year's most WTF [what the f---] Oscar nominee," and Ty Burr of Boston Globe penned a blog post about "Alone Yet Not Alone" titled "The Oscar nomination that stinks to heaven."
"Its inclusion is questionable, and evidence that strides still need to be made when it comes to the Oscar song field," reads a particularly pointed criticism from the Los Angeles Times.
NewNowNext, a division of Viacom's LGBT channel LogoTV called it "a clunky song from an obscure Christian movie score" and blasted the movie for having an "anti-gay connection" because of endorsements from Rick Santorum and James Dobson, among others.
"It's crammed with sappy Christian aphorisms," writes NewNowNext's Dan Avery of the song, "and over-produced to within an inch of its life."
But it's not as though the song has no pedigree nor business securing a nomination.
As WND reported, "Alone Yet Not Alone" was performed by Christian author, singer and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada and was written by Dennis Spiegel and Bruce Broughton, who had already received an Academy Award nomination for his score for "Silverado" and who boasts nine Emmy Awards for his musical compositions on television.
"Songs are highly subjective," explains George D. Escobar, who served as a producer, co-director and co-writer on the film "Alone Yet Not Alone." "The fact that some people do not like it is perfectly reasonable and acceptable. Others absolutely love the song.
"Comparing 'Alone Yet Not Alone' against the popularity of other Oscar contenders is natural. But we should also compare it to the message it conveys," he continued. "It's the only song that is about God's faithfulness during our times of affliction and persecution. Most of the other songs are about rebellion and self-reliance. Isn't it nice to have some contrast in the marketplace?"
Escobar also warned critics to beware masking another motive in criticizing the nomination of "Alone Yet Not Alone."
"It shouldn't matter whether this movie is a 'Christian film' or not. That's equivalent to someone criticizing another movie for being a 'black film' or a 'white film.' It's hypocritical to impose a double-standard like that," Escobar said. "I would ask audiences and critics to give the song fair consideration for its intent within the movie and how it supports the story being told. That's a key eligibility criteria from the Academy itself."
Listen to the song yourself below:
Eareckson Tada told THR she's delighted and surprised her song has been given this honor.
"I'm the least likely candidate to record a song for a movie, I'll tell you that up front, so it's amazing," Eareckson Tada said. "It's amazing enough that a family-friendly movie with a Christian theme is nominated in any category for an Academy Award. Besides 'The Blind Side,' which was wonderful, it's just not the norm."
Eareckson Tada, who has been a quadriplegic since a diving accident when she was 17, has no professional training as a singer, and her accident has left her with just half the lung capacity of what it ought to be. In fact, THR reports, her husband needed to push on her diaphragm while she recorded the Oscar-nominated song to give her enough breath to hit the high notes.
"This is such an out-of-left-field thing," she said. "The God of the Bible delights in using ill-equipped, unskilled and untrained people in positions of great influence, everyone from Joseph to David. It's all to show that it's not by human prowess or brassiness, but all by God's design. I don't know if that's what he's doing here, but it's worth giving pause and considering."
So why all the vitriol?
Most of the criticism surrounding the song's Oscar nomination points to the film's relative obscurity. "Alone Yet Not Alone" had a successful limited release in September, but won't be introduced to nationwide audiences until this summer.
Still others suggest that Broughton, who formerly served on the Academy's board of governors as a representative of the music branch, may have had influenced the Academy to select "Alone Yet Not Alone."
"I'm sure he has a lot of friends in the branch," one person whose song was snubbed reportedly told The Hollywood Reporter.
The Los Angeles Times suggesting something similar, writing "Why it's nominated and not, say, the more mournful yet communal spiritual from '12 Years a Slave' … is puzzling, but it's not impossible to form a plausible theory.
"William Ross, who composed the score for the film, has served as music director for the Academy Awards show now three times," the Times continues. "Unfair as it may be, it's hard to overlook such connections when the film virtually came out of nowhere to score an Oscar nomination."
Yet it's not really even unusual for a song to "come out of nowhere" to secure an Oscar nomination in the Best Original Song category. In fact, the 2007 winner, "Falling Slowly," came from the film "Once," which opened in only two theaters to a paltry $62,000 in ticket sales. "Once" finished its run grossing less than $10 million after being seen in a total of only 150 theaters nationwide.
In 2009, the song "Loin de Paname" was nominated from the film "Paris 36," which only made it into 52 theaters and couldn't even muster $1 million in box office receipts. Several other examples from recent years reveal songs from the blockbusters are often passed over for pieces from smaller productions.
Furthermore, Broughton flatly denies claims he engineered a behind-the-scenes campaign of peddling influence for "Alone Yet Not Alone."
"It's nonsense," Broughton told Entertainment Weekly. "What happens is that the music branch of the academy puts all the songs on a disc, and I was concerned that this song would be really easy to overlook. So, yeah, I wrote some people and said, 'Could you just take a look.' That was literally the extent of the campaigning. I received in the mail songs from other films that were pressed and recorded CDs. We didn't do anything like that at all."
He also denies he personally pressed people to vote for "Alone Yet Not Alone."
"I don't know how many people vote," he said. "I don't know what they vote for. And it's for sure that Price Waterhouse [isn't] going to let me know. Even when I was a governor on the Academy, I didn't have access to that information."
Others have stepped up to defend the song's selection as well.
"There are always films up for Oscars that Americans never heard of … and words like 'allegations,' 'clandestine' and 'twisting arms' aren't ever associated with those other nominations, so why this one?" Eareckson Tada asked THR. "Yes. it's unusual, but somebody must have liked the song very much. I don't know how the process works, but I do know nobody twisted arms or pushed their influence."
"If [Broughton] could influence the Academy in that way, he should have got a lot more nominations over the past 30 years," quipped Ray Costa, Broughton's publicist. "There were 75 songs being considered, and this one was different. It was inspirational and integral to the movie."
And according to a poll at THR, many who have heard the song are beginning to agree. Asked which title should win the Best Original Song category, over 70 percent of respondents have answered "Alone Yet Not Alone," while the widely perceived front-runner, "Let It Go" from the film "Frozen," has garnered less than 20 percent of the vote.
Behind the scenes
An Academy Award nomination is sure to put a spotlight on "Alone Yet Not Alone," yet according to Enthuse Entertainment, which made the film, it's not the first indication the movie may soon gain even more attention.
The movie's limited theatrical release, Enthuse reports, boasted one of 2013's highest grossing film-opening weekends in terms of per-screen average (combining theater ticket sales with Seatzy ticket sales), reaching $13,396 per screen.
"This per-screen average dwarfed the screen average of most other wide release movies, including 'Enough Said' (which did $9,238 per screen) and 'Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2' (which did $8,439 per screen)," Enthuse stated, "ranking 'Alone Yet Not Alone' as one of the highest per-screen average independently released faith-based films to date."
"Alone Yet Not Alone" is scheduled for nationwide release June 13, 2014.
Escobar, who also serves as WND's Vice President of Film and Television, is co-founder of the Advent Film Group and has directed several top documentaries for WND Films, including "The Isaiah 9:10 Judgment" and "The Rabbi Who Found Messiah."
He gave WND a sneak peak behind the making of the now Oscar-nominated song.
"Ken Wales (executive producer of 'Amazing Grace' and 'Christy') called me late one night from Los Angeles, wanting me to conference call with him and Bruce Broughton, the composer," Escobar recounted. "I almost fell off my chair. Bruce is one of my favorite composers, especially for his work on 'Silverado.' And now he wants to talk to me about writing the song for 'Alone Yet Not Alone?' I was thrilled and honored.
"We were in the middle of pre-production when the work began on the song," Escobar continued. "Ken Wales truly had his eye on the ball when he insisted that the song is the linchpin of the production. After thinking about it, I knew Ken was right. We had an opportunity to introduce a new musical classic. I asked that Bruce and Ken consider writing a song as memorable, powerful and timeless as the famous hymn, 'Amazing Grace,' known by millions and sung by countless people. They were thinking along the same lines. That commission was a tall order for anyone to attempt, let alone deliver. Bruce (music) and Dennis Spiegel (lyricist) were not afraid, thank God. They set to work immediately and in about two weeks, I got a call from Ken and Bruce, wanting me to sit down, and over the phone at my basement office they played the song 'Alone Yet Not Alone' for the very first time. I loved it immediately. They nailed it. We had a song for the ages. And now it is nominated for an Academy Award. What a journey."
"I so resonate with the words, with the tune, the melody," Eareckson Tada said of "Alone Yet Not Alone." "Maybe it's because I'm a quadriplegic, maybe because I sit down in a 'stand up' world and sometimes I can feel a little alone. And so to sing it from the heart and to sing it with that kind of personal passion, I hope does the melody and the lyrics proud."
As WND reported, the film "Alone Yet Not Alone" is based on the true story of a frontier family caught in the throes of the French and Indian War in 1755.
The movie is based a novel of the same name written by Tracy Leininger Craven, which tells the struggles of her ancestors in the mid-1700s when British and French forces were fighting for control of the American continent.
The Leiningers, immigrants from Germany who sought freedom to worship in the New World, began to carve out their homestead farm around Penns Creek at the outskirts of western Pennsylvania. Despite the arduous work, the Leiningers labor joyfully, nourished by God's promises, which they memorize during their daily reading of the cherished family Bible.
Then the unthinkable happens: In a terrifying raid, Delaware warriors kidnap the two young Leininger daughters, Barbara and Regina, taking them captive hundreds of miles away and adopting them into their native culture. Yet through their captivity and eventual escape, they never lose hope and "their faith becomes their freedom."
Watch the trailer of the film below:
The movie's screenwriter James Richards said, "Our ancestors built an amazing, wonderful country here. Now we're charged with handing it off to our children and grandchildren. You cannot do that well if you don't know where you came from and what your ancestors believed, why they overcame amazing struggles they had to overcome in order to survive and build this nation and hand it over to us."
Author Tracy Leininger Craven adds, "I'm really thankful to the Lord and for my parents in the way that they passed on our family heritage, but it's so much deeper than just a family heritage – it's the faith in Christ and the personal relationship with Him."