Academy Disqualifies Joni Eareckson Tada's Oscar-Nominated Song from Christian Movie
Update: Tada tells CT:
While I can only imagine the disappointment of music writer Bruce Broughton and lyricist Dennis Spiegel in the rescinding of their Oscar nomination, it in no way detracts from either the song's beauty or its message. I was humbled and honored to have been asked to sing it for the film, and was as surprised as anyone when I learned of the song's nomination.
I was grateful for the attention the nomination brought to this worthy song and the inspirational film behind it, as well as to the ongoing work of Joni and Friends to people affected by disabilities. The decision by the Academy to rescind the nomination may well bring even further attention, and I only hope it helps to further extend the message and impact of the song.
Regarding the reasons for the nomination being rescinded, it is not my place to speculate as I have no insights into the workings of the entertainment industry. I was honored to be invited to sing the song and it will always be a treasured experience.
In an interview, Tada told the Los Angeles Times: "If it was for reasons connected with a faith-based message, it shouldn't surprise us that Hollywood would shun Jesus. Jesus has been shunned by much weedier characters."
CT also examined what film experts think Christians can learn from the disqualification.
Update (Jan. 30): The board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has rescinded the Oscar nomination for "Alone Yet Not Alone." The board concluded that writer Bruce Broughton "had emailed [some of the other 239] members of the branch to make them aware of his submission during the nominations voting period," according to a press release.
"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," said Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs.
Since nominations were announced, the song—performed by quadriplegic Christian author and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada—drew criticism and confusion from Hollywood for beating out musicians featured in more popular films. The latest news stokes the debate even further, given that Oscar lobbying and campaigning are arguably common practices.
"I'm devastated," Broughton told The Hollywood Reporter. "I indulged in the simplest grassroots campaign and it went against me when the song started getting attention. I got taken down by competition that had months of promotion and advertising behind them. I simply asked people to find the song and consider it."
The Academy has decided not to replace "Alone Yet Not Alone" with another song, leaving the four remaining songs to compete for the Oscar.
The Hollywood Reporter's "awards analyst" Scott Feinberg explains why "the Academy is wrong" because "the punishment doesn't fit the crime."
[Originally published Jan. 17, 2014, at 12:52 p.m. under headline "Hollywood's Latest Controversy: Oscar Nod for Christian Movie Song by Joni Eareckson Tada"]
Update (Jan. 21): Joni Eareckson Tada is just as surprised as everyone else.
"This is something that happens to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood, not me," she told The Hollywood Reporter, before noting:
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.
A Hollywood nod to a Christian film has come as a shock to the entertainment world, as the song "Alone Yet Not Alone" (from the movie by the same name) was nominated for an Oscar.
The song beat out Coldplay, Taylor Swift, and Lana Del Ray to join the other four nominees for best original song: Frozen's "Let it Go"; U2's "Ordinary Love" from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom; Pharrell Williams's "Happy" from Despicable Me 2; and Karen O's "The Moon Song" from Her.
What's more surprising, however, may be the person who performed the song in the end credits: Joni Eareckson Tada, quadriplegic Christian author and speaker, and one of CT's "50 Women You Should Know." (A video of Tada singing the song is below.)
The Los Angeles Times reports the song may have been nominated because it played a crucial, recurring role in the film. Bruce Broughton, a winner of multiple Emmy awards and a previous Oscar nominee (Silverado), was one of the composers.
Broughton also is a previous music branch governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as well as a chair of the music branch. (Deadline claims Broughton made phone calls to his connections within the academy to consider the song). William Ross, composer of the film's score, has been a past music director for the Academy Awards as well.
Vanity Fair interviewed Broughton, who said, "I am not known as a songwriter—most composers don't get a chance to write songs. Because it is a faith-based film, it is probably the first one of its sort to get a nomination. And because it is for my song, it is particularly sweet."
The nomination has received negative reactions not for its quality, but for the film's endorsements by James Dobson, Rick Santorum, and Josh Duggar, executive director of Family Resource Council Action, among others. Film.com framed the movie as endorsed by "anti-gay hate group activists," while the Boston Globe headline reads, "The Oscar nomination that stinks to heaven." Hitflix writes: "There were audible gasps and chuckles when Cheryl Boone Isaacs began reading the list of nominees in the category, and first off the bat was "Alone Yet Not Alone" from, er, Alone Yet Not Alone…It doesn't seem a stretch to call this Christian drama the most obscure feature film nominated for an Oscar this year."
But Ken Wales, one of the producers of the film, told CT that the nomination comes "by the grace of God," and that regardless of the outcome, "to God be the glory." Wales, who also produced Amazing Grace—the acclaimed film about William Wilberforce—as well as Christy—a mid-90s TV show—said the song will be performed live during the March 2 Academy Awards event.
In 2010, CT discussed Alone Yet Not Alone as a film that "recognizes the power of hymns," specifically in reference to the Oscar-nominated song. The film will be released in theaters nationwide this June.
CT also interviewed Tada and her husband about their marriage following the release of the couple's book, Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story.
Additional reporting by CT editor-at-large Mark Moring.
Below is a video of Tada performing the Oscar-nominated song: