And the Oscar for Best Song goes to… POLITICS

At Front Row Reviews we were contacted by Ron Grant who served as Governor of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Music Division from 1996 to 2000. During his tenure, he was responsible for the redesign and implementation of the Music Division’s Emmy Award nominating system which is still in use today.

Mr. Grant has an Academy Award and Emmy for Technical Achievement, 3 Emmy Nominations for Outstanding Music, and a nomination from The International Animated Film Society for Best Music in Television. Ron currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Society of Composers and Lyricists.

He sent us the below essay after the news that the Academy rescinded the nomination for Alone Yet Not Alone.

As Governor of the Television Academy’s Music Division (1996 to 2000) and the architect of the Music Divisions Nominating System (now in it’s 18th year of operation for the Emmys), it’s my opinion that The Motion Picture Academy has used its dated and teetering nomination system to castigate Broughton for HIS impropriety rather than looking inward at ITS OWN failings. Quoting Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy: “It is the Academy’s goal to ensure that the Awards competition is conducted in a fair and ethical manner.”

Though this quote was directed at Broughton, in my view, this is a misdirection of the issue. Actual culpability falls on the Motion Picture Academy’s antiquated nomination system not Broughton’s outreach to the membership; a system that is long overdue for a thorough scrutiny for its own improprieties and so… deserving of a complete overhaul. Like “The Wizard of Oz” it’s time for Toto to pull back the curtain and get a good look at the buttons and leavers behind the Oscars.

AN UNMANAGEABLE NOMINATION PROCESS

A careful look at the Motion Picture Academy’s nominating system reveals some very troubling flaws. First, so that any person may grasp the Academy’s cumbersome process and the unmanageable weight it places on a single voter, the following is the list of all 75 songs that were delivered by DVD to the nominating members for their consideration.

1) “Amen” from “All Is Lost”
2) “Alone Yet Not Alone” from “Alone Yet Not Alone”
3) “Doby” from “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”
4) “Last Mile Home” from “August: Osage County”
5) “Austenland” from “Austenland”
6) “Comic Books” from “Austenland”
7) “L.O.V.E.D.A.R.C.Y” from “Austenland”
8 ) “What Up” from “Austenland”
9) “He Loves Me Still” from “Black Nativity”
10) “Hush Child (Get You Through This Silent Night)” from “Black Nativity”
11) “Test Of Faith” from “Black Nativity”
12) “Forgiveness” from “Brave Miss World”
13) “Lullaby Song” from “Cleaver’s Destiny”
14) “Shine Your Way” from “The Croods”
15) “Happy” from “Despicable Me 2”
16) “Gonna Be Alright” from “Epic”
17) “Rise Up” from “Epic”
18) “What Matters Most” from “Escape from Planet Earth”
19) “Bones” from “For No Good Reason”
20) “Going Nowhere” from “For No Good Reason”
21) “Gonzo” from “For No Good Reason”
22) “The Courage To Believe” from “Free China: The Courage to Believe”
23) “Let It Go” from “Frozen”
24) “100$ Bill” from “The Great Gatsby”
25) “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got)” from “The Great Gatsby”
26) “Over The Love” from “The Great Gatsby”
27) “Together” from “The Great Gatsby”
28) “Young and Beautiful” from “The Great Gatsby”
29) “The Moon Song” from “Her”
30) “I See Fire” from “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”
31) “Bite Of Our Lives” from “How Sweet It Is”
32) “Try” from “How Sweet It Is”
33) “Atlas” from “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”
34) “Better You, Better Me” from “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete”
35) “Bring It On” from “Jewtopia”
36) “Aygiri Nadani” from “Kamasutra 3D”
37) “Har Har Mahadeva” from “Kamasutra 3D”
38) “I Felt” from “Kamasutra 3D”
39) “Of The Soil” from “Kamasutra 3D”
40) “Sawariya” from “Kamasutra 3D”
41) “In The Middle Of The Night” from “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”
42) “You And I Ain’t Nothin’ No More” from “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”
43) “Let’s Take A Trip” from “Live at the Foxes Den”
44) “Pour Me Another Dream” from “Live at the Foxes Den”
45) “The Time Of My Life” from “Live at the Foxes Den”
46) “Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”
47) “Monsters University” from “Monsters University”
48) “When The Darkness Comes” from “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”
49) “Sacrifice (I Am Here)” from “Murph: The Protector”
50) “The Muslims Are Coming” from “The Muslims Are Coming!”
51) “Oblivion” from “Oblivion”
52) “Sweeter Than Fiction” from “One Chance”
53) “Nothing Can Stop Me Now” from “Planes”
54) “We Both Know” from “Safe Haven”
55) “Get Used To Me” from “The Sapphires”
56) “Stay Alive” from “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”
57) “So You Know What It’s Like” from “Short Term 12”
58) “There’s No Black Or White” from “Somm”
59) “Cut Me Some Slack” from “Sound City”
60) “You Can’t Fix This” from “Sound City”
61) “Let It Go” from “Spark: A Burning Man Story”
62) “We Ride” from “Spark: A Burning Man Story”
63) “Becomes The Color” from “Stoker”
64) “Younger Every Day” from “3 Geezers!”
65) “Here It Comes” from “Trance”
66) “Let The Bass Go” from “Turbo”
67) “The Snail Is Fast” from “Turbo”
68) “Speedin'” from “Turbo”
69) “My Lord Sunshine (Sunrise)” from “12 Years a Slave”
70) “Make It Love” from “Two: The Story of Roman & Nyro”
71) “One Life” from “The Ultimate Life”
72) “Unfinished Songs” from “Unfinished Song”
73) “For The Time Being” from “The Way, Way Back”
74) “Go Where The Love Is” from “The Way, Way Back”
75) “Bleed For Love” from “Winnie Mandela”

That’s 75 songs running an average of 3 minutes each. To just listen, let alone ponder and consider each and every song on the DVD it takes nearly 4 hours. Add another hour or so for taking notes and such. If a viewing/listening is done at all, it is most likely done over a few days, even weeks.

The task is daunting: How does one come to some reasonable and satisfying determination of excellence? How do you clear your aural “palate” after listening to each song? Will you have to go back to refresh your memory? Are they all about the same quality? Should one judge these on musical quality alone?

Put another way, the Academy’s system is a clerical quagmire ripe for sonic psychosis as well as voting expediency. As the Academy is clearly aware of this, it meekly asks:

“We hope that you will watch the enclosed DVD and use it to better inform your voting decision.”

“[THEY] hope”, but a voter is not required to review any of the submissions! It may well be impossible for a new, though worthy artist to surface from this sea of entries and the tangle of this system!

The composers and lyricists names are not listed on the ballot with the submissions as the Academy’s token gesture of fairness. Of course, everyone knows who wrote the songs from “Frozen”- or the other major entries, listed or not. The reality here is that “rule” punishes the small film and its composer. The result is to further obscure the names of the little known artists under the ruse of creating a level playing field.

A LOOK AT THE OSCAR BALLOTING PROCESS

Each member gets a paper ballot with what they call a “reminder DVD” of all the songs for review. This language implies that everyone has already heard ALL 75 songs… which I found strange. The paper ballot lists all the songs with a “check box”. The instructions are that you may vote only for 5 in order of preference and for no more than 2 from the same film. But here’s what’s actually in play and how the Academy has misdirected it’s own Awards improprieties while calling your attention to Broughton’s alleged infringement of the rules!

There is no Academy regulation, no stipulation that a member may NOT vote for himself, and no recusal form supplied with the ballot. For example, was “Frozen” nominated because of the 2 extra votes that may have come from the lyricist and composer or… any other person(s) associated with the film? Doesn’t THAT “create the appearance of an unfair advantage”. Was there any collusion amongst the members to game the system?

Of the 240 voting members, how many turned in their ballots? It’s possible that only a small number, let’s say 40, are determining the Oscar Award. And of those, many may have a vested interest in the outcome. They may be self-nominating or work for a major studio in the running. How many voting members were solicited by the industry with private emails? We don’t know.

A LACK OF AFFIDAVITS

But, this is what we do know: There is NO mechanism in place to prevent this. No affidavits signed to obviate a conflict of interest on any level. Yet, one biased vote may determine who gets the Oscar!

This, I believe, is the most egregious flaw. The Motion Picture Academy does not require an affidavit affirming that members have not voted for themselves, have no personal or business interest in the outcome or otherwise suffer from a conflict of interest, actual or apparent.

Further, there is no required affidavit affirming that ALL 75 SONGS HAVE BEEN REVIEWED, LISTENED TO AND THOROUGHLY EVALUATED together with an assurance that the songs nominated were DELIBERATELY chosen as a result of picking the best 5 out of the total list of the 75 and that voters did NOT discuss their choices with peers nor try to influence another’s vote.

If “It is the Academy’s goal to ensure that the Awards competition is “conducted in a fair and ethical manner,” then the breach of impropriety is NOT Broughton’s it’s the Academy’s; the Academy’s for failing to INSURE that EVERY ENTRY is listened to and evaluated fairly without outside interference or promotion of any kind. Every entry must be viewed frame by frame and heard note by note and judged on its own merits… period! If one song is NOT heard by every voting member, it’s a broken system.

Broughton’s actions were an attempt to circumvent the gauntlet set up by the Academy’s arcane and antiquated process. He knew what we all know in a system like this and in this industry: No one has 5 hours in the day to spend listening to one song after another. Further, there is no “built in” assurance that each submission was actually listened to. Knowing this…. all Broughton asked was to “please listen”.

The Academy has taken a guarded position on its own culpability in this issue and in so doing slaughtered one of its own and one of the best composers in the industry while hiding behind its faltering nomination system – a system where the accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers have no accountability. They cannot tell you if 10 songs were listened to and properly judged… all 75 or… none. And they won’t tell you if only 40 ballots were received that determined the Oscar nomination or all 240.

By contrast, the Television Academy REQUIRES an affidavit from EVERY judge! Here’s the Television Academy’s text.

By signing this affidavit, I affirm that I have viewed all of the videos assigned to my panel, and that I have acted fairly and without bias in evaluating them. Additionally, I affirm that I have not been involved or employed either currently or during the last twelve months with the development, production or post-production of any of the programs or individual achievements that my panel is judging. I have no other affiliation or association with any program or individual that my panel is judging other than those affiliations or associations which I have noted on the judge’s R.S.V.P., which I have furnished to the Television Academy.

Without this requirement, many scores and songs are simply overlooked and never seen or heard in the Motion Picture Academy. And this is exactly why Broughton was compelled to bring his song to the attention of the voting membership. With this as the context, one can see not only that the Academy is at fault, but that Broughton’s actions were harmless and solely intended to address the inequities he was place in by the Academy’s system.

A WIN / WIN FOR THE OSCARS

The solution for this issue is the one we use in the Television Academy: ALL the songs should be revoted before the 16th with an affidavit affirming that EVERY MEMBER HAS HEARD EVERY SONG and has made their choices based on ALL 75 submissions including “Alone, Yet not Alone”. “Alone ,Yet not Alone” may get renominated or it may not, based on its merits along with EVERY OTHER SONG in the running.

The nominees may be reshuffled, the industry may be disgruntled but then and only then can Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy, claim: “The Awards competition [has been] conducted in a fair and ethical manner”.

Broughton is just a scape goat for the inequities inherent in the Academy’s ailing nominating system. Though “Alone, Yet Not Alone” has been removed from the competition, the improprieties and Byzantine practices of the Academy’s Oscar nominating system remain!

About The Author

Reviews Editor, Contributor and Festival Coordinator

Ollie has written for Front Row Reviews pretty much since its inception about seven years ago whilst still studying Film & Television. Since then, he was trust into the world of independent film distribution and has recently started working with Picturehouse Entertainment in their Marketing Department. Having written and produced two radio series, he is moving hoping to (one day) write a web series/short film/feature (delete as appropriate ;)). His favourite director is David Lynch (which makes him make a lot of sense!) and his favourite films are The Hours, Mulholland Drive, Volver, Blade Runner and Bridget Jones Diary.

2 Responses

  1. Alicia Bay Laurel

    Eloquently written! If truth and justice are served, Ron Grant’s article will be the reason it is done.

    Reply

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