Special Report

No Singing About God

Hollywood withdraws an Oscar nomination.

By 2.1.14

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There’s been a strange controversy over the now rescinded Oscar nomination for “Alone Yet Not Alone,” the song by quadriplegic Christian author Joni Eareckson Tada for an independent movie of the same name. The nomination was reputedly “controversial” because it’s a religious song for a faith-based film. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Board of Governors explained that there had been inappropriate lobbying by the song composer, who’s a former board governor. The composer says his mere email advocacy pales next to more typically sophisticated media campaigns for big budget Hollywood film songs. It’s reportedly the first time the Academy has rescinded a nomination.

“If it was for reasons connected with a faith-based message, it shouldn’t surprise us that Hollywood would shun Jesus,” Eareckson Tada responded. “Jesus has been shunned by much weedier characters.” She added, according to The Los Angeles Times, “The rescinding of the nomination doesn’t detract from the song’s beauty or message. I hope it brings more attention to it.”

The film is about a German family on the Pennsylvania frontier whose daughters are kidnapped by hostile tribesmen during the French and Indian War. They had come to America for religious freedom, and they rely on their faith during war-time travails, a theme bound to discomfit Hollywood liberals and others. Here are the song lyrics that apparently perturbed some:

I’m alone, yet not alone.
God’s the light that will guide me home.
With His love and tenderness,
Leading through the wilderness,
And wherever I may roam,
I’m alone, yet not alone.

A promotional video shows Eareckson Tada, in a wheel chair, recording the film’s song in a studio. It’s quite beautiful, likely even few of her many Evangelical fans knew of her vocal talent, and only malevolent sourpusses could possibly find offense in her or her uplifting hymn.

Scenes from the film itself, in online promos, are less impressive. It looks well intentioned but lacks the panache of a higher budget Hollywood film. The frontier women are overly well made up, everyone seems stiffly earnest, and the overall tone resembles a children’s Disney movie of 50 years ago. It can’t compare, for example, with Daniel Day Lewis’s lush 1992 version of Last of the Mohicans, set in the same historical period.

Alone Yet Not Alone as a film still doesn’t deserve the nasty, conspiratorial critique from some on the Left. A silly exposé from the Daily Beast credits the film to “right-wing evangelical filmmakers who have been quietly building an alternative industry to produce movies colored by deeply ideological views about American history and politics.” It describes “settler protagonists clashing with Native American antagonists—beautiful, blonde Europeans brutalized by angry, dark savages.” Mockingly, it explains the film title “refers to the situation of the two female leads who are captured by ‘Injuns’ (‘alone...’) and ask God to rescue them (‘...yet not alone’).” In others words, the film is racist and glorifies European imperialism. And it dares to advocate “deeply ideological views about American history and politics,” in apparent contrast with non-ideological Hollywood political and historical neutrality. If only the film instead had featured kidnappings by the CIA, the Nixon Administration, or pharmaceutical conglomerates, with a theme song by Joan Baez, the reviews would have been far more sympathetic.

The Daily Beast further ties the naughty film to “dominion-mandate Christian entrepreneurs,” the “right-wing evangelical filmmaking world,” a “far-right evangelical patriarchy movement based in Texas,” the “evangelical homeschooling movement,” “patriarchal ideology that eschews all forms of birth control,” and “young homeschooled Christian filmmakers...favoring movies with political themes, like opposition to feminism and socialism,” and touting a “spiritualized American nationalism.” In other words, very, very scary.

Alone Yet Not Alone is based on a novel whose author’s colonial ancestors serve as the basis for the frontier drama. Their story of French-aligned tribes attacking remote farms and settlements in the English colonies and kidnapping the women was common. My own Scots-Irish ancestors had a similar experience in the same era on the Virginia frontier. The husband was left for dead, although he survived. The wife and baby were escorted with other frontier women to Ohio. As Presbyterians they sang Psalms the ancient Hebrews mournfully sang in their Babylonian captivity. Warriors threatened to kill the baby because of the crying but were dissuaded by the baby’s eventual smiles, which they interpreted as divine favor. One warrior knocked out the wife’s eye, prompting other warriors to offer her the opportunity for retribution, which she sagely declined. After some months in captivity, the husband and other frontiersmen surrounded the tribal village and compelled the prisoners’ release. My ancestors returned to Virginia and with great fecundity produced many more descendants, the wife’s missing eye in no way inhibiting her fertility. Life mercifully moved on.

So the film, however clumsily, is likely more accurate historically than most Hollywood conspiracy potboilers sharing Oliver Stone’s paranoia. Hopefully all the heavy-handed hostility and consequent publicity will stimulate other alternative films with increasing sophistication that challenge suffocating Hollywood political orthodoxy. And hopefully the saintly, indefatigable Joni Eareckson Tada will go on singing her marvelous “Alone Yet Not Alone.”

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.