Every year Oscar nomination morning rolls around and there’s least one feature film nominee that elicits reactions of “Wait. What on earth?” More often than not it’s the Best Original Song category, and this year we got ourselves a doozy.
“Alone Yet Not Alone” is the film, and the nominated song takes the same title. It’s the story of two little girls kidnapped by Native Americans on the frontier of Western Pennsylvania in 1755, who survive the experience as a result of their devout Christian faith. It’s one of those very low-budget Christian films that are made by and marketed entirely to an Evangelical audience. According to Wikipedia, the film – which you may never have heard of – "was released on September 27, 2013 in 9 cities and was the number 1 movie for theaters in Knoxville, Tenn.; Raleigh, N.C.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; and San Antonio, Texas."
The movie is formally endorsed by people like Rick Santorum and anti-gay hate group activists like Dr. James Dobson.
Here’s the trailer:
So, what are we looking at? There’s an emphasis on the piety of the central family, German immigrants with two daughters who embrace their faith as thoroughly as is expected of them. Then the girls get kidnapped by a Delaware raiding party, who at least in the trailer get called “savages” over and over again. According to the film’s website, the Delaware “attempt to indoctrinate them into native culture,” which as we all know has little to do with Jesus. Yet they retain their faith, and the film is undoubtedly a triumphant tale of the light of Christianity over the forces of darkness.
Eek. The song, which includes one of the more unsettling key changes I’ve heard recently, is sung by Joni Eareckson Tada, whose quadriplegia is emphasized by the music video as part of her journey in faith.
Anyway, one of us will watch the film to discern just how uncomfortable it is. As for historical accuracy, the trailer includes a whole lot of bison, which weren’t common that far east into Pennsylvania at the time (we’ll find an expert). The film is based on a new book about the true story, rather than an old captivity narrative, which was actually a very popular genre of memoir in the 18th century. Of course, the actual captivity narratives often included a great deal more nuance about the interaction between colonists and Native Americans than we see in this trailer.
Pennsylvania in particular has a very complicated history regarding the colony’s interaction with the Delawares and other peoples, and a notably non-violent one at that. Check out Into the American Woods: Negotiations on the Pennsylvania Frontier, which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer and is probably worth more of your time than anything that emphasizes “savagery.”
UPDATE: Thanks to Hitfix for pointing out that Bruce Broughton, the song's composer, "is an Academy Governor." YIKES.
CORRECTION: Via Bruce Broughton's reps: "Broughton is a former music branch governor and former music branch chief. He hasn’t held either post in over two years."