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Oscars Academy should learn from Bryan Adams "un-Canadian" debacle

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made a positive move this week towards diversifying the Oscars by announcing a new rule for Best Picture eligibility, starting with the 96th Academy Awards in 2024.

Films will have to meet two out of four standards regarding representation and inclusion, with both on-screen and off-screen elements being considered, in order to qualify for Best Picture consideration.

It's a bold move and one that's been a long time coming for an Academy that is still dominated by older white males and their very particular taste in movies.

In seeking to correct a long-standing wrong, however, the Academy would be wise to examine what happened in Canada in 1991, when Vancouver rocker Bryan Adams was bizarrely declared un-Canadian by blinkered federal bureaucrats, who used their own four-point system called MAPL — which stands for music, artist, production and lyrics — to determined Canuck content.

Adams had co-written the tunes to his new album, "Waking Up the Neighbours," with his British producer Robert (Mutt) Lange, and recorded most of them in London.

He failed the Cancon test by just a half point, but that was enough to limit the number of times the songs from the album could be played on Canadian FM stations. Meanwhile, new songs by Rod Stewart, who is British, and Bonnie Raitt, who is American, were deemed to be Canadian and were allowed unlimited radio play in Canada.

I broke the story in the Toronto Star, and it caused quite a stir.

Here it is, and the moral of the story is, be careful with your definitions when you seek to set new standards. You might run afoul of the law of unintended consequences:

Bryan Adams' songs declared un-Canadian

By Peter Howell Toronto Star

Sept. 12, 1991

New songs by Canadian rock star Bryan Adams have been declared un-Canadian by the federal broadcast regulator, which has limited the number of times they can be played on FM radio stations.

But current hit tunes by British rocker Rod Stewart and U.S. blues singer Bonnie Raitt are both considered Canadian and are allowed unlimited play.

All 15 songs on Adams' new album Waking Up The Neighbours, scheduled for Sept. 23 release, have been denied Canadian-content status by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission because the tunes were co-written by Adams and his British producer, Robert (Mutt) Lange.

That means none of the songs can be played more than 19 times a week on any Canadian FM station. There are no restrictions on AM radio.

The tunes include "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You, " which has topped the Canadian, U.S. and British pop charts since its release July 15. It was featured in the summer movie Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves and it's well on its way to becoming one of the biggest song hits of all time.

His just-released second single off the album, "Can't Stop This Thing We Started, " is also affected by the ruling.

"Try walking up to Bryan and say, 'Hey, guess what, Bryan? You've lived here all your life but you're not a Canadian artist.' That's how ridiculous it is, " Adams' manager Bruce Allen said yesterday.

But Allen said the CRTC ruling makes no difference to either him or Adams, and they have no plans to fight it.

Adams, who was born in Vancouver and still lives there, is Canada's biggest rock star, having sold millions of albums at home and abroad. He's received both the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia for his work, which includes co-writing and performing on Tears Are Not Enough, the 1985 Canadian superstar record that raised millions of dollars for Ethiopian famine relief.

Songs that are deemed to be Canadian can be given unlimited FM radio play for the first year of their release. They include Stewart's "Rhythm Of My Heart" and Raitt's "Something To Talk About, " because the two hits were written and composed by Canadians. (In Stewart's case, it was Marc Jordan; Raitt's tune came from Shirley Eikhard. Both writers are from Toronto.)

Adams himself is considered to be Canadian "but his songs are not, " said Anne-Marie Desroches, the CRTC's acting director for radio.

The CRTC judges Canuck content with a four-point grading system called MAPL, which stands for music, artist, production and lyrics. A record needs to score at least two points to be given the official MAPL stamp of approval.

Adams flunked the test by only half a point, Desroches said in an interview, because he wrote and composed with a Briton.

"If you have the music done by Bryan Adams and somebody else, a British guy, then Bryan Adams only gets half of the point, " she said. "Instead of two parts Canadian, you come up with 1 1/2 parts Canadian."

Adams hasn't been treated unfairly, she said. Quebec singing star Celine Dion also ran afoul of the Canadian content rules last year when she released her album "Unison," which was recorded in New York, Los Angeles and London.

Adams could probably have picked up the extra half point he needed in the production category because the album was half recorded in his Vancouver home and half in a British recording studio.

Desroches said she couldn't give the full details about the CRTC decision because the bureaucrats who made the ruling are currently out on strike.

Adams' music is so popular that it doesn't need the extra FM airplay that Canadian status would have given it, Allen said from his Vancouver office.

"The whole CRTC thing is a joke, " he said. "Believe me, we've never, ever sat down and analyzed it to see what it means to us. Never.

"Of course it's outrageous, but it's the way they make their criteria. But in reality, who wins? Probably some borderline Canadian act that wasn't going to get played. If Adams doesn't qualify then they (the radio stations) will throw on some piece of Canadian crap, which they always do."

Allen added he'd spoken with Adams by telephone yesterday, and the topic of the ruling wasn't even raised.

(This column was originally published in the Toronto Star on Sept. 12, 1991.)

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