“And the Oscar for Best Picture for 2017 goes to ‘La La Land!’… err… wait … no … omigosh … there’s a mistake … this isn’t a joke … the Best Picture award goes to ‘Moonlight’!”
Sunday night’s Oscar finale was epically embarrassing, but not the first time the Oscar nomination process went very wrong. The “Best Picture” announcement fiasco was a genuine mistake, as in, Oops, the presenters got the wrong envelope. So sorry!
The last time this happened was only three years ago, just before the 2014 Academy Awards ceremony. But unlike in 2017, the Oscar mistake in 2014 was made on purpose – and purely for political and financial reasons. The lament then wasn’t, So sorry, folks, our mistake! It was more like, So long and good riddance!
It began Jan. 16, 2014, when the independent film “Alone Yet Not Alone” was announced to the world as an Academy Award nominee for “Best Original Song.” The announcement sent an immediate shockwave throughout the Hollywood movie industry. Seemingly, no one had heard of this tiny movie before, so how could it possibly garner a nomination? After all, it was competing among the giants of the business: “Frozen” (Disney), “Despicable Me 2” (Universal Pictures), “Her” (Warner Bros.), “Mandela” (20th Century Fox) – and “Alone Yet Not Alone” (Enthuse Entertainment).
“Enthuse what, for ‘Alone’ who?” was the common refrain.
The Hollywood elite had never heard of this unknown movie from a no-name entertainment company. Everyone wanted to know who was behind this anomalous Oscar entry. It turned out to be Bruce Broughton, the music composer for “Alone Yet Not Alone'” (with lyrics by Dennis Spiegel). Broughton was previously nominated for an Oscar for his music score for the western film classic, “Silverado,” in 1985, and among his many film credits, Broughton had garnered eight Emmy Awards, 15 Emmy nominations and one Grammy Award. His music talents already well recognized and appreciated, Broughton had also earned the respect of his peers by serving as a governor of the Music Branch of the Academy.
Soon after the 2014 Oscar nominations were announced, many in the Hollywood media began to investigate the anomaly for the Best Original Song. Rather than celebrate that a small indie movie got nominated, it became, “How did this happen, especially to an overtly Christian movie sung by Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic author?”
The witch hunt was on.
Ironically, because of the extra attention paid to the Best Original Song nominees, two polls were immediately conducted for this nomination category. One poll was by The Hollywood Reporter, or THR, a popular industry trade publication, and the other poll was by People magazine. Both polls were unscientific, using a popularity contest-type of polling methodology. Again, THR’s primary audience is from the movie industry, while People’s readers are primarily the general public.
At the start of THR’s polling on Jan. 17, 2014, “Alone Yet Not Alone” garnered 56 percent of the votes – a remarkable surprise to everyone. By the next day, it climbed to 70 percent, and 72 percent the following day, clearly surpassing all the other nominated songs.
By Jan. 20, film industry voters had pushed “Alone Yet Not Alone” to 75 percent. This amazing result was clearly alarming to the Hollywood elites, especially to the industry publicists and public relations firms hired to push the nominations for their much more well-known and well-heeled studio clients. In fact, this was becoming an embarrassment.
If, based on the THR polling results, movie music aficionados in the Hollywood film industry were clearly favoring “Alone Yet Not Alone,” what about the general public? Again, the results of the People magazine polls were alarming to Hollywood. “Alone Yet Not Alone” received 62 percent of the votes, more than double for “Let It Go” from Disney’s mega hit “Frozen.”
Hence, on Jan. 29, 2014, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs made a headline-grabbing announcement, rescinding the nomination for “Alone Yet Not Alone” – allegedly because composer Broughton had emailed members of the music branch to make them aware of his submission during the nominations voting period.
To be clear: Broughton sent out one single email, while everyone else was sending out CDs and DVDs, hosting parties and running multiple “For Your Consideration” promotional campaigns to get their work nominated. Studios and publicists go into a veritable frenzy trying to get Academy members to consider their projects.
And yet, according to Isaacs, “No matter how well-intentioned the communication, using one’s position as a former governor and current executive committee member to personally promote one’s own Oscar submission creates the appearance of an unfair advantage.”
How ironic that the industry that spends billions of dollars to promote its products to drive audiences to cinema screens, and then spends tens of millions of dollars more to drive industry colleagues to recognize the work of their peers, felt that one email from one of their own was unfair.
Hear the song for yourself:
But an even greater irony loomed: Cheryl Boone Isaacs was the governor of the Public Relations Branch of the Academy prior to becoming the Academy’s president in 2013. According to the Academy, Boone Isaacs currently heads CBI Enterprises Inc., where she has consulted on marketing the films “The Artist” (2011) and “The King’s Speech” (2010).
What’ wrong with that? Nothing – except that both movies won the Best Picture Oscar when Boone Isaacs was helping to promote them. Was there the appearance of an “unfair advantage” for the then-governor of the Public Relations Branch of the Academy to be representing the eventual winners in the Best Picture category? Apparently not.
Sunday night, the Academy made a quick, nearly instantaneous correction to its Best Picture Award mistake for “Moonlight.” Is it possible that the Academy, ignoring industry pressure, could revisit the mistake it made in rescinding the Best Original Song nomination for “Alone Yet Not Alone” and bravely do the right thing?
SPECIAL OFFER: “Alone Yet Not Alone” is available from the WND Superstore.
Editor’s note: WND’s vice president for Film and TV, George Escobar, was the co-director of “Alone Yet Not Alone.”
The movie trailer: