Was Academy's Disqualification of Song Contender 'Alone Yet Not Alone' Justified? (Opinion)
THR's awards analyst Scott Feinberg questions whether the punishment for Bruce Broughton — and his collaborator Dennis Spiegel — fits Broughton's alleged "crime."
Yesterday was a sad day in Oscar history. Bruce Broughton, a talented composer with a rock-solid reputation and a long history of service to the Academy, and his collaborator, the lyricist Dennis Spiegel, were stripped of the best original song Oscar nomination that they were accorded two weeks earlier for "Alone Yet Not Alone" -- and nobody can quite pinpoint why.
Do I personally think that Broughton and Spiegel deserved an Oscar nom for their tune -- a sweet but simple and little-heard song from a little-seen film of the same name -- over all 70 other long-listed songs, many of which are far more impressive to me and acclaimed by others, from Lana Del Rey's haunting rock ballad "Young and Beautiful" in The Great Gatsby to Keith Stanfield's heartbreaking rap "So You Know What It's Like" in Short Term 12? No, I do not.
But do I think that they deserved to have their Oscar nomination rescinded by the Academy? On the basis of the evidence that the Academy has supplied and in the context of how most contenders campaign for Oscars these days: No, I do not.
Ever since Jan. 16, when most people first heard about "Alone Yet Not Alone," Broughton has been very open about the fact that he sent emails during the nominations voting period to some of his 239 fellow members of the Academy's music branch -- yes, the same branch that he represented on the Academy's board of governors from 2003-12 -- urging them to consider nominating the song. I read one of Broughton's emails and saw no evidence that he had "thrown his weight around" as an ex-Academy official or promised something in return for support; he merely offered "a request 'For Your Consideration,' a hope that the song will get noticed and be remembered among the many worthy songs from more highly visible films." Moreover, we should remember that he did not stand over their shoulders as they filled out their ballots, compelling them to vote for his song. They nominated "Alone Yet Not Alone" of their own volition. People should direct their anger and frustration about its nomination at them.
My main problem with the disqualification of "Alone Yet Not Alone" is that I can't tell you which specific Academy rule Broughton supposedly violated because the Academy didn't cite one in its press release. Instead, the Academy's president spoke, on behalf of its board of governors, in more general terms. She said that "using one's position as a former governor and current executive committee member to personally promote one's own Oscar submission" is something that "creates the appearance of an unfair advantage." As part of the Academy's goal of ensuring "that the Awards competition is conducted in a fair and ethical manner" and challenging "any campaign activity" that works "in opposition to that goal," she continued, the board, which is empowered to "take any corrective actions or assess any penalties that in its discretion it deems necessary to protect the reputation and integrity of the awards process," felt that it had to act.
(The board apparently did not find that allegations made by a private investigator hired by a rival song's PR firm were worth prosecuting.)
But I think that they missed the forest for the trees here. Just about every individual and every studio with any hope of an Oscar nomination or win -- including those with far deeper pockets than Broughton and Alone Yet Not Alone's backers -- campaigns for it, usually far more aggressively than did Broughton. Is sending a few emails requesting consideration for one's contender a more egregious form of campaigning than taking out "For Your Consideration" ads in print and on television or hosting large, lavish receptions at which the famous singer(s) of a nominated song perform it live? I would argue that it is not. (No fewer than half of this year's nominated songs have been promoted at events of this nature.) Ads and parties are not necessarily an option for low-budget productions like Alone Yet Not Alone -- so was Broughton supposed to sit back and do nothing while his competitors were going all-out with their campaigns? That expectation strikes me as unfair.
Now, it is true that the Academy generally frowns upon the targeted solicitation of its members' views and votes -- it doesn't want its members getting lobbied around the clock and does not allow studios to send promotional materials specifically to Academy members. (Studios get around that by sending promotional materials to members of the various guilds to which many Academy members also belong.) And so, sure, if Broughton specifically called and/or emailed en masse the members of the Academy's music branch -- people whose names and contact information he would possess, as their former representative on the Academy's board of governors, but his competitors would not -- I can see why that would upset the Academy.
But does that, in itself, merit the disqualification of an Oscar nomination? (THR has been able to identify fewer than a dozen prior instances of nominations being revoked.) I don't think so. It feels like the punishment doesn't fit the "crime." Maybe something more along the lines of a slap on the wrist, like the loss of tickets to the Oscar show -- that is, after all, how The Hurt Locker's Oscar-nominated producer Nicolas Chartier was punished by the Academy after he sent emails to Oscar voters, after having been nominated, disparaging another competitor, Avatar.
Now, the fact that the Academy's press release was so vague about Broughton's alleged offenses probably means one of two things: (1) Broughton's outreach to music branch members was fairly innocuous and the board just felt that it had to make an example of him to discourage future maneuverings of this sort by others, or (2) it involved something far worse than what has previously been reported -- as in, "Vote for me or else something will happen to you" -- and the board did not want to share the specifics of that in order to spare its longtime colleague any further embarrassment.
Based, though, on what I know about Broughton, and the fact that he has been very open and transparent with the press since his nomination, I would bet on the former. And, if I am right, then I am afraid that -- in my humble opinion -- the Academy is wrong.