LOS ANGELES — Next week, about 6,000 Oscar voters will start casting ballots for their favorite films of 2013 and those who made them.
Will they make moral judgments as well as artistic ones with their votes?
That question and others erupted this weekend as a controversy emerged involving people and movies in the annual film awards race.
An open letter by Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen’s adopted daughter, was published on Sunday in the column and blog of Nicholas Kristof, the columnist for The New York Times. In the letter, Ms. Farrow presented graphic details in her account of sexual abuse as a child by Mr. Allen.
Ms. Farrow challenged actors like Cate Blanchett and Diane Keaton to justify their decisions to work with him, as both have, or to celebrate him, as Ms. Keaton did at the Golden Globes in January, when Mr. Allen received a lifetime achievement award.
Her torment, Ms. Farrow wrote, “was made worse by Hollywood,” adding that “all but a precious few (my heroes) turned a blind eye.”
The letter suggests a callous indifference by film professionals now celebrating their accomplishments in a series of ceremonies leading up to the March 2 Academy Awards. And it lands as Mr. Allen’s film “Blue Jasmine”enters the Oscar balloting that begins Friday. He is nominated for best original screenplay, and Ms. Blanchett, the film’s star, figures on many lists as the favorite for best actress honors.
The abuse claims go back to 1993, when Ms. Farrow’s mother, Mia Farrow, fought with Mr. Allen over custody of three children, including Dylan. Last fall, Dylan Farrow spoke in detail about her claims of abuse in an interview in Vanity Fair. Mr. Allen, who was never charged with criminal wrongdoing, has denied the accusations, a position his lawyer repeated on Sunday.
In a separate blowup, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars, on Saturday issued an emphatic defense of its decision to rescind a nomination for the song “Alone Yet Not Alone,” from a small, religious movie of the same title.
The Academy had been accused in a letter from an earlier Oscar winner, Gerald Molen, of opening itself to charges of bigotry against Christians, but insisted that the nomination was revoked only because the song’s co-writer, Bruce Broughton, had abused his position as a committee member by emailing voters with a notice about his song.
Together, the two controversies are this year’s contribution to an emerging insistence by many who watch the Oscar process, and some who participate in it, that Academy members should take into account moral, ethical and social factors when marking a ballot or enforcing the rules.
A year ago, “Zero Dark Thirty,” about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, was sharply criticized by public officials and some Academy members who believed that the film advocated the use of torture, or falsely suggested that harsh interrogation had led to Bin Laden’s discovery.
The actor Martin Sheen, a prominent Academy member, was linked to a drive against the film’s portrayal of torture, then publicly disclaimed the effort. The film had five nominations, including one for best picture, but received an award only for its sound editing.
Another kind of storm broke around “Life of Pi,” which drew pre-Oscar protests for supposedly underpaying its visual effects artists. Ang Lee still won the Oscar for best director.
By and large, Oscar voters are lucky if they can find time to see the nominated films, let alone sort through a court case or a secret military operation. But they, including actors, are increasingly being asked to do just that.
At the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, where she was honored Saturday night, Ms. Blanchett was asked about the Farrow letter by the Hollywood-Elsewhere.com reporter Jeffrey Wells on her way to an after-party. “It’s obviously been a long and painful situation for the family, and I hope they find some resolution and peace,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Ms. Blanchett said she had no further comment. Ms. Keaton’s agents did not immediately respond to a request for comment. “We have had a long, productive and rewarding relationship with Mr. Allen,” Sony Pictures Classics, which released “Blue Jasmine,” said in a statement. “Mr. Allen has never been charged in relationship to any of this, and therefore deserves our presumption of innocence.”
Elkan Abramowitz, a lawyer for Mr. Allen, responded harshly to the new round of publicity. “It is tragic that after 20 years a story engineered by a vengeful lover resurfaces after it was fully vetted and rejected by independent authorities,” he wrote in an email Sunday. “The one to blame for Dylan’s distress is neither Dylan nor Woody Allen.”
In summarizing the case, Mr. Kristof, who acknowledged being a personal friend of Mia Farrow and her son Ronan, wrote that “a panel of psychiatrists sided with Allen, a judge more with Dylan and her mother.”
Oscar voters have occasionally used the awards to send a message about focusing on art, not behavior. That appears to have happened in 2003, when they named Roman Polanski best director for “The Pianist,” while Adrien Brody received an Oscar as its star and Ronald Harwood for writing its screenplay — even though Mr. Polanski was still wanted for sentencing on a statutory rape charge from more than 25 years earlier.
Asked to comment on Ms. Farrow’s claims, an Academy spokeswoman wrote in an email, “The Academy honors achievement in film, not the personal lives of filmmakers and artists.”
But Dylan Farrow, through her letter, now insists that accountability, at least as she sees it, be part of the package.
Christian film stripped of ‘Best Song’ Oscar nomination
The Washington Times
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
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.