The hymn-like tune "Alone Yet Not Alone" has been dumped from the list of five Oscar-nominated songs, and the resulting controversy has developed into a movie-worthy scenario complete with private investigators, a David-versus-Goliath confrontation and all the plot complexities of a who-done-it.
Trouble began when the pretty little song with reverent lyrics popped up as a big surprise among the nominees. The movie that bears the same name as the song is a low-budget Christian film that earned a miniscule $134,000 in its initial three-week run.
Some of those passed over for the best song Oscar were suspicious. How did this obscure song from a below-the-radar film garner enough attention to become one of the top five, edging out big name performers such as Beyonce, Coldplay, Taylor Swift and Jay Z?
Reportedly, a private eye was hired by a PR firm, on behalf of a disgruntled non-nominee, to find out if there had been any skullduggery.
Somehow, it came to the attention of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that Bruce Broughton, the veteran movie music man who co-wrote "Alone Yet Not Alone," had sent out 70 emails to members of the academy urging them to listen to his song before they voted on nominees. Academy governors ruled that this was improper campaigning and took the extremely rare step of revoking the nomination.
Never before had a nominee been dumped for improper campaigning. Broughton and others were shocked and outraged. Why had the Academy come down so hard on this small faith-based film when, year after year, the big studios spend millions of dollars on all kinds of promotions to make sure their films, their actors, their directors and their songs get attention from Oscar voters?
Another front in the culture war opened up as Christian and right wing media went ballistic. This was one more egregious example of elite Hollywood liberals denigrating those who call Jesus their lord and savior, conservative critics said.
The Oscar-winning producer of "Schindler's List," Gerald Molen, wrote a scathing letter to Academy President Cheryl Boone Issacs. If this were to become the new standard for improper campaigning, Molen told Issacs, "Your office would be filled with returned Oscars from past winners and nominees who have lobbied their friends and colleagues. This seems to me to have been a normal practice for a long, long time, and yet the Academy has suddenly discovered lobbying in the case of this one song?"
It is no surprise, Molen said, that, to many people, the decision smacked of "faith-based bigotry."
In defense of the academy's board of governors' ruling, Issacs pointed out that Broughton, himself, is a former governor and current member of the music branch executive committee. The integrity of the awards is at stake, Issacs said, since those songwriters who did not make it into the final five might see the process as less than impartial if Broughton's self-promotion within the small community of voters were allowed to stand. And, it is a small community. Those 70 people who received Broughton's email are a significant share of the music branch's 240 members.
Is Broughton guilty of the Hollywood version of insider trading? Or is his indiscretion so slight, compared to the major publicity campaigns of other Oscar contenders, that he has been unfairly singled out and punished? Is there any chance of reprieve? Was there ever a chance the lovely but unremarkable song could win an Oscar? And, whatever happens, will the imbroglio give the movie "Alone Yet Not Alone" a box-office boost when it returns to theaters this spring?
The plot thickens.