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Gerald Molen, an Oscar-winning producer of Schindler’s List, is accusing the Academy of discriminating against a religious movie in revoking its nomination in the best song category.
In a feisty letter to Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a copy of which was obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, Molen attacks the group’s Jan. 29 decision to rescind the nomination for Alone Yet Not Alone, an overtly faith-based film, over allegations that its songwriter Bruce Broughton, a former Academy governor, improperly lobbied members of the song branch. If Broughton and co-writer Dennis Spiegel are ineligible for an Oscar merely for asking people to give their tune a listen, he argues, more Oscar winners should be required to return their statues because they all promoted their work to some degree or another.
“Every film, director, writer, cinematographer, actor, art director, costume designer and efx house finds a way to pitch or promote their work. Many will see this decision as faith-based bigotry pure and simple,” Molen says in the letter to Boone Isaacs.
The Academy nominated “Alone Yet Not Alone” for best song then took back the nomination two weeks later saying that Broughton improperly emailed “members of the branch to make them aware of his submission during the nominations voting period.” The nomination had been controversial because Alone Yet Not Alone earned just $134,000 in its 21-day run and Broughton is a former governor and current music branch executive committee member.
In the movie, the song is sung not by a professionally trained singer, but by Joni Eareckson Tada, a 64-year-old woman who has been without the use of her arms and legs for 47 years and runs a charity that provides wheelchairs to needy children. She also authors Christian books and broadcasts Christian radio.
“Critics will pounce and accuse us of being out of touch and needlessly offending middle America by stripping this song — a song sung by a quadriplegic hero to evangelical Christians who has captured the imagination of the American people — of its nomination,” Molen writes. “In my humble opinion, it seems to me that this has turned a Cinderella story that America loves into a story of the wicked stepmother who wants to keep her daughter from the ball, with we the Academy cast as the villain.”
After its nomination, several songwriters affiliated with other films expressed dissatisfaction with the selection, and a PR firm representing a song not nominated hired a private investigator to research whether Alone Yet Not Alone should be disqualified for not meeting advertising requirements, but the Academy wasn’t convinced on those grounds.
The email sent by Broughton, though, convinced the Academy to make the highly unusual move to rescind the nomination. Broughton’s email read in part: “I’m dropping you a line to boldly direct your attention to entry #57,” a reference to the track number on a CD containing songs up for nomination consideration. “I’m sending this note only because it is extremely unlikely that this small, independent, faith-based film will be seen by any music branch member; it’s the only way I can think of to have anyone be aware of the song.”
“My goodness,” writes Molen, “if we were truly to operate by this new standard the committee has cited, 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?”
This isn’t the first time Molen has expressed displeasure with the Academy. Last year, he fired off another letter to then-president Hawk Koch complaining about the selection process for best documentary, including that the selection committee included left-leaning filmmaker Michael Moore.
The Academy’s decision to take back its nomination caused a stir in Christian media, with many journalists and bloggers speculating that Hollywood is simply prejudiced against faith-based films. But Molen’s stern letter amounts to much more significant criticism, given his pedigree as an Oscar winner for best picture and producer credits on blockbusters like Jurassic Park and Minority Report. He also produced the political documentary 2016: Obama’s America and is working on the follow-up to that film, called America, set to open July 4.
“It has been reported that a rival film hired a private investigator to find dirt on the film in an attempt to discredit it as not having been advertised properly and that when this failed to sway the committee, a decision was instead made to disqualify it because of the email,” Molen wrote in his letter to Boone Isaacs. “I urge you and the Academy to reconsider this decision and restore the song and fairness and integrity to our process.”
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