I was exchanging email with my movie-maven friend (among many other areas of expertise) Nell Minow, who offhandedly mentioned that she found the Motion Picture Academy song controversy interesting. I replied that the word I'd use was "insane."
If you don't know the situation, the very brief overview is that a completely unknown song, "Alone Yet Not Alone" from an even more unknown tiny movie released in about 9 theaters in the South, got nominated for Best Song. It's composer is a former Governor of the Academy and serves on the music committee's executive board. He sent out around 70 copies of the song to members of the music committee, who are the people who vote for nomination (and who number 239.) As a result, the song was disqualified, the first time in Academy history that any nominee has been disqualified for a reason that wasn't technical.
No specific rule violation was given, but the current president of the Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, released a statement that said, “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,”
As I said, the word I'd use for all this is “insane.” This quote in the L.A. Times stood out to me --
"I was confused by the logic of all of this," said a member of the academy's music branch who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the issue. "I received several personal calls and emails from publicists asking me to vote for the songs they represented. I never received a single call or email from either Bruce or Dennis."
To me, I do think that it is odd that the song got nominated in the first place -- from such an unknown movie with its composer being on the music branch's executive committee. But in this category, Best Song, there are so few potential nominees to choose from compared to other categories. And the pool of voters in the nominating process is small (just 239) and many probably knew the composer who was credentialed, well-known in the Industry, and, yes, did have a presence in the Academy hierarchy. So, while odd that the unknown song got nominated, it’s not inexplicable that this insular group would know about the song while the public at large wouldn’t. But yes, it’s odd, no question -- HOWEVER, to disqualify a nominee for the first time in Academy history not because it was found to have actually done something wrong, but because it creates the “appearance” of unfair advantage by virtue of a letter being sent by the composer himself to 70 of the 240 voting members -- while, at the same time, publicists for the other songs made phone calls which is perfectly okay -- and studios have full screenings and take out ads because they have the money to do so. It just strikes me as small and petty. And perhaps retribution.
But I’ll be honest, this is made all the more convoluted for me because I somewhat know the current president of the Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs. I don’t know her well at all, and we haven’t had reason to cross paths in a couple decades. But the last time we did (it was in my wayward days when I was doing publicity, and she was Executive VP heading up the Paramount PR department), it was over something that seemed small and petty. So, on a completely personal level, I find it whimsical to follow this all with the personal element attached, no matter how small.
I don't know enough to say whether the song should have been disqualified or not. But from very little I do know, I think it bizarre that the song was dropped, and it strikes me (without knowing more facts) as the wrong thing to do.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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