Update: "Alone Yet Not Alone" has officially been disqualified in the Best Original Song category over what the board of governors has deemed an "ethical breach." On January 28, the Board of Governors convened and concluded that the song's writer, Bruce Broughton, had used improper campaigning tactics to secure Alone Yet Not Alone's nomination. Broughton, a former governor himself, "had emailed members of the branch in order to make them aware of his submission during the nominations voting period," said the Academy in a statement.
Though the rules do not expressly prohibit Broughton's actions, the board ruled that Broughton's actions violated a broad Academy principle: To "ensure that the awards competition is conducted in a fair and ethical manner."
"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," added Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs.
Broughton issued his own statement to The Hollywood Reporter: "I'm devastated. 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."
No song will be nominated in the place of "Alone Yet Not Alone," leaving the four remaining nominations in contention for the March 2 awards show: "Happy," from Despicable Me 2, "Let It Go," from Frozen, "The Moon Song," from Her, and "Ordinary Love," from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
Here's our original story about the controversial Oscar nominee:
In the mix of all the usual surprises and snubs that greeted yesterday's list of Oscar nominees, there was one genuine head-scratcher: "Alone Yet Not Alone," a Best Original Song nomination from the film of the same name. The Oscar-nominated Christian hymn can be heard here, performed by singer Joni Eareckson Tada, in a video montage that includes extensive footage from the film:
If you'd never heard of Alone Yet Not Alone before yesterday, there's a good reason: Last October, it played in just nine theaters — mostly in Texas and Tennessee — for a single week. The only review I could find came from The Dove Foundation, which evaluates movies based on how family-friendly they are. (Alone Yet Not Alone received five doves, which is their highest rating.)
Alone Yet Not Alone's unconventional distribution, which eschewed all the usual channels employed by Hollywood, relied heavily on Seatzy, a service that asks people to pay upfront for a movie they'd like to see. Seatzy operates on a simple mathematical principle; if enough people RSVP to see a movie, the distributor sets up a screening at a local theater. It's the kind of arrangement that's ideal for a "faith-based movie" like Alone Yet Not Alone, since the genre relies far more heavily on grassroots and word-of-mouth campaigns. But it also meant that Alone Yet Not Alone met the minimum requirement to qualify for Oscar consideration.
Of course, there are countless independent films that can say the same. So how did Alone Yet Not Alone end up breaking through to the Oscar ballot? Deadline pins the movie's unlikely success to the efforts of two men: William Ross and Bruce Broughton. Ross, who scored Alone Yet Not Alone, happens to be the conductor for the orchestra at this year's Academy Awards ceremony; Broughton, who wrote the eponymous song, is the former head of the Academy's music branch.
According to Deadline, Broughton first hired publicist Ray Costa to campaign for the song's inclusion. When that approach failed, he personally appealed to voters, urging them to consider "Alone Yet Not Alone" as they filled out their ballots. The gambit worked; when the nominees were announced on Thursday, "Alone Yet Not Alone" managed to edge out high-profile artists like Taylor Swift ("Sweeter Than Fiction," from One Chance), Coldplay ("Atlas," from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), and Lana Del Rey ("Young and Beautiful," from The Great Gatsby).
Was Broughton's one-man grassroots campaign permissible under Academy guidelines? By the letter of the law, yes — but it's long been considered a breach of etiquette to mount personal campaigns for awards. In 2011, Melissa Leo was raked over the coals for paying for her own Hollywood trade ads — and while she went on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, some insiders and prognosticators had predicted she would lose the category based entirely on the backlash against her.
Though the situation here sounds even sketchier, Alone Yet Not Alone's breach of etiquette will probably be treated less like an affront and more like a bizarre curiosity. As surprising as it was to see "Alone Yet Not Alone" on the nominee list, there's virtually no chance it will take home the trophy on Oscar night. Though the nominees for Best Original Song are selected only by songwriters and composers, all of the Academy votes on the final winner, and Broughton presumably has far less sway with the Academy as a whole. (By a wide margin, the frontrunner in the category is "Let It Go," from Disney's animated musical Frozen.) But while Alone Yet Not Alone is likely to wind up empty-handed, the film's real victory was arguably achieved the moment it showed up on the shortlist. Deserving or not, we're all talking about it now, right?
This story, which was originally published on January 17, was last updated on January 30.