What Does It Take to Get Your Oscar Nomination Disqualified?

By  · Published on January 30th, 2014

Even during the hazy early morning announcements, it stuck out – a nomination for a film no one had ever heard of for a song no one had ever heard of in a particularly (and literally) vocal category. The Oscar nomination for Best Song for “Alone Yet Not Alone,” as performed by Joni Eareckson Tada with music by Bruce Broughton and lyrics by Dennis Spiegel and from the film Alone Yet Not Alone (because why not?) was weird from the start, and the truth behind it was swiftly outed by the eagle-eyed and –eared.

While plenty of movie writers and entertainment sites were quick to pick up on the weird choice and what actually motivated it, Guy Lodge over at In Contention nailed it early, figuring out that the film had been given a limited release in September, aimed at the Christian market (as Lodge shared, “production company Enthuse Entertainment describes themselves as producing ‘God-honoring, faith-based, family-friendly films that inspire the human spirit to seek and know God’”) and that, still juicier, “Broughton is a former Academy Governor and, oh, the former chief of the music branch.” More details about the film and Broughton’s apparent campaign trickled out quite quickly over a short period of time, mainly centering on the news that Broughton had reached out to members of the branch during the voting period to let them know about his qualifying submission.

Now, with two weeks of chatter, blather, and more than the stray giggle to mark the nomination and its fallout, the Academy has disqualified the song from its nomination field. Alone…yet, well, actually just pretty alone here.

Variety reports that “the Academy’s board of governors voted to rescind the original song nomination for ‘Alone Yet Not Alone,’ music by Bruce Broughton and lyric by Dennis Spiegel…The decision was prompted by the discovery that Broughton, a former governor and current music branch executive committee member, had emailed members of the branch to make them aware of his submission during the nominations voting period.”

Broughton’s emailing campaign is viewed as an unfair advantage, particularly given his past positions and visibility in the branch, and the board reportedly “determined that Broughton’s actions were inconsistent with the Academy’s promotional regulations, which provide, among other terms, that ‘it is the Academy’s goal to ensure that the Awards competition is conducted in a fair and ethical manner. If any campaign activity is determined by the Board of Governors to work in opposition to that goal, whether or not anticipated by these regulations, the Board of Governors may 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.’”

Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said in an official statement announcing the decision, “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.”

While the Academy’s regulations are a bit vague on the subject, Broughton of all people should have realized the potential for his actions, and instead of using his former positions to gain traction, should have used it to remember what’s actually legal within the context of the nomination process.

Broughton himself doesn’t mince words when it comes to the situation, telling Variety: ““I’m devastated…I indulged in the simplest, lamest, grass-roots 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.”

Broughton’s clearly genuine emotion over the situation aside, there are plenty of other horrible details to round this thing out and make it all but sing “debacle.” As Variety reports, “the song is performed by quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada. With limited lung capacity due to her disability, Tada, who is also an Evangelical minister, had her husband, Ken, pushing on her diaphragm while she recorded the Oscar-nominated song to give her enough breath to hit the high notes.” We’ll just leave that heart-wrenching little bit here.

While disqualifications (and flat out award-yankings) don’t happen often, this is far from the first time it’s occurred over the course of Oscar history. It is, however, rare that the “Alone Yet Not Alone” nomination was pulled because of campaigning irregularities, as most disqualified nominations have stemmed from objective inaccuracies.

As Variety shares, “ the Academy dropped the nomination for Nino Rota’s score for 1972 The Godfather after finding out key portions had been used in an earlier film,” while “Louis L’Amour’s 1953 story nomination for Hondo was withdrawn when it was found to be based on a short story.” Elsewhere, “Edward Bernds and Elwood Ullman honorably withdrew their nomination for the 1956 High Society. They had written a Bowery Boys comedy with that title and figured voters were confused because the Grace Kelly-Cole Porter musical of the same title was also released that year.” The Gold Knight also points to another Academy disqualification, “when it took A Place in the World out of contention for Best Foreign Language Film of 1992. The film was nominated for Uruguay, but was declared ineligible and removed from the final ballot after information surfaced that the film was wholly produced in Argentina.”

In 1968, the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature was presented to Young Americans and then revoked because the film actually debuted in 1968. Each instance of disqualification was rooted in something tangible related to the film itself – when it was released, where it was made, what the material was sprung from – not to outside campaigning, making the Alone Yet Not Alone scandal something of an oddity.

The song’s nomination will not be replaced with another pick, leaving just four choices for the final award: “Happy” from Despicable Me 2 (Music and Lyric by Pharrell Williams), “Let It Go” from Frozen (Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez), “The Moon Song” from Her (Music by Karen O; Lyric by Karen O and Spike Jonze, and “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (Music by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen; Lyric by Paul Hewson).

In memory of the two-week period when Alone Yet Not Alone was a bonafide Oscar nominee, you can listen (and, through the magic of YouTube, also watch) to the song below.