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Christian film stripped of ‘Best Song’ Oscar nomination

Academy says that writer broke its rules against lobbying

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This year's most-obscure Oscar nominee is no more.

At a meeting this week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences board of governors decided to strip the surprise nomination for Best Song from "Alone Yet Not Alone," which appears in the independent Christian-produced film of the same name.

Writer Bruce Broughton, a former member of the board of governors and currently on the music branch's executive committee, violated the Academy's rules against lobbying by personally e-mailing "members of the branch to make them aware of his submission during the nominations voting period," according to a statement released by the governors Wednesday.

The nomination of "Alone Yet Not Alone" raised the eyebrows (and hackles) of many veteran Oscar-watchers when the nominations were announced Jan. 16. The film had a public profile more associated with obscure foreign films and nobody had tipped it as a possible nominee in any category.

"Alone Yet Not Alone" played on 11 screens nationwide for one week in October and grossed less than $135,000, BoxOfficeMojo.com said. As of Wednesday evening, fewer than 100 people had rated it on the Internet Movie Database. By comparison, the Sandra Bullock October release "Gravity," which was nominated for 10 Oscars, has grossed more than $260 million and been rated by more than 250,000 IMDb users.

The producers of "Alone Yet Not Alone" plan a broader release in June.

Studios sometimes give films a short end-of-the-year "qualifying run" to make it eligible for the Oscars, with a broader release planned for the spring, cashing in on the publicity and cachet of the nomination.

The Japanese animated film "The Wind Rises" by Hayao Miyazaki was nominated for Best Animated Feature this year using the same strategy. But that strategy usually requires a much more-aggressive and high-profile publicity campaign than "Alone Yet Not Alone" could manage.

Ironically, the song had survived an earlier challenge to its eligibility based on the fact the film's producers had not purchased any advertisements for its short and barely-noticed qualifying run in Los Angeles. The Academy ruled in that case that the theater listings for its showtimes qualified as the required advertisement.

According to the Academy governors, no other song will be nominated in place of "Alone Yet Not Alone" when the final ballots are sent out Feb. 14, and the Oscar will go to one of the four remaining nominees on March 2.

"Alone Yet Not Alone" is a religiously themed period piece about 18th-century settlers dealing with colonial wars and Indian kidnappers in the Ohio Valley. The song is presented in the movie as a traditional family hymn and sung on the film's soundtrack by Joni Eareckson Tada, a well-known evangelical minister.

Mr. Broughton, who wrote the song with lyricist Dennis Spiegel, told the Hollywood Reporter that he was "devastated" by the stripping.

"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," he told the prominent trade publication.

The film's status as a small Christian film led Orthodox Christian film blogger Peter Chattaway to predict charges of religious persecution in the coming days, playing off the image of Hollywood as a liberal bastion hostile to Christianity.

"The Academy may or may not have ruled correctly when it comes to Broughton's e-mails. But it probably, however unintentionally, just gave certain Christians a little more fodder for their persecution narrative, and thereby threw just a little more fuel on the culture-wars fire. Sigh," Mr. Chattaway wrote on his Patheos site Wednesday night.

The charges were quick to come in the comment boxes at Variety magazine.

"This is Blacklist Baloney. There's nothing wrong with sending an email alerting people about something that's trying to compete against major works. ... Maybe they just don't want to hear about Jesus at the Oscars," one commenter speculated.

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