Though the controversial Green Book ended up winning the Best Picture Oscar just a week ago, Roma apparently came this close to nabbing the most coveted award of the night. It would have been a historic first because Roma’s distributor is the streaming behemoth Netflix. If they won Best Picture, it would have been a significant moment in motion picture history. But it didn’t. However, that doesn’t mean Netflix is done gunning for the number one spot. But as they get closer and closer to overtaking the Oscars, they are ruffling feathers and making enemies.
One of Netflix’s biggest rivals? A young up-and-coming filmmaker named Steven Spielberg.
As summarized by IndieWire, America’s most successful director is at odds with Netflix and is trying to get the Oscars to change their rules so that a Netflix movie wouldn’t be in contention to win any Oscars. In Spielberg’s view, streaming films should be considered made-for-TV movies and shouldn’t be held side-by-side to the pictures that take home Oscar gold. That’s quite the opinion, Steven. I wonder what your buddy Marty Scorsese will say about that considering his next film is a Netflix production.
The basic gist is that Netflix doesn’t play by the same theatrical release rules and spends too much money on its promotions and Oscar campaigning. Spielberg and other Netflix foes think that the company skirts the rules, releasing their films briefly in theaters to qualify for Oscars and then getting most of their views at home with their subscribers. As well, since they’re practically made of money, Netflix can pour millions upon millions into campaigning and promotion, squashing all competition. They also don’t have to release the box office gross of their films, they also don’t respect the 90-day theatrical release window that most other films do.
In summation: Netflix is doing things its own way, finding success and Spielberg isn’t happy about it.
Who is Right?
Honestly, both sides are correct in their own ways. I’ll never ever badmouth someone (especially Steven fucking Spielberg) for trying to get more people into theaters. I love seeing a movie on the big screen, as do many of you. There is something much more magical about that experience than, say, watching something at home on your iPad. Netflix’s model is altering the way we watch movies and, frankly, that’s uncomfortable.
I also understand that Netflix’s financial power is making it harder for other films to even compete at the Academy Awards. Recall the other Best Foreign Picture nominees. Did you honestly think any of them had a chance? No, Roma had it in the bag since the beginning. They’re like the Golden State Warriors of movies: they have so much power and so much money that it’s making it hard for others to compete. Spielberg is coming from a place of keeping the movie-going experience an even-handed and almost-religious event. I can respect that. I can respect him. He’s not just some old man yelling at clouds, like some say.
However, times are changing. Progress rarely goes backwards (unless we’re talking about the U.S. presidency) and when the ball starts rolling it is hard to stop it. Netflix is doing things its own way but so were color films, TV, Napster and the iPod. Hollywood and the Academy needs to adapt or face seeming antiquated. The Academy needs to understand that Netflix isn’t alone. Sure, they’re the top dog now but Amazon and other various streaming services stand the chance to disrupt the system too. Streaming films aren’t going away and they will forcibly alter business models. There will come a time when the most-talked-about and successful movie of the year debuts on a service like Netflix. If the Academy just buries its head in the sand and kicks them out of the club, they will be doing themselves and all filmgoers a major disservice.
The Future Awaits...
Spielberg and the Academy have to understand how beneficial Netflix is to both filmmakers and those who love movies. Netflix has more money than God and they have decided to take risks with their movies. Along the way they have employed many people of color and unheard voices in the film industry. They are creating a much more even playing field when it comes to who is making movies. They are also creating a much more even playing field when it comes to who is seeing movies. Not everyone can rush off to their local indie theater to see a movie. They have kids, they have jobs, they have little money to spend on transportation and tickets. Smaller films like Roma are much more accessible because Netflix itself is much more accessible. They are doing great things when it comes to communities that the Academy forgets all too often. You have to remember one major thing that bolsters Netflix’s argument: the people are on their side. Audiences love Netflix and generally really enjoy watching movies at home. The Academy will look even more elite and even more out-of-touch with these people if they cast them out.
Both sides need to come to an understanding. Yes, some tweaks might need to be made and Netflix might need to clean up its act just a little bit. No side is wrong and there needs to be compromise for the good of the Academy, the Oscars and, of course, film lovers. Both sides of this debate have sound talking points and they’re all coming from a place of loving films. Times are changing but, please, let’s not allow anyone to get in the way of great movies being made or seen.