By: Jackson Balling
I’m sure that if you’re reading this, then you’ve seen or heard of Stephen Spielberg’s comments about Netflix being eligible for the Oscar’s. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, there shouldn’t be a response outside of a shake of the head or the “Old Man Yells at Cloud” meme. But the fact that there even needs to be a discourse at all justifies a more thorough conversation about it, and since I have a film podcast then that clearly makes me as qualified as anyone to dig into this.
In a post-Green Book as Best Picture world, it’s more apparent than ever that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is woefully out of touch (and if you haven’t seen Green Book, allow this faux trailer to accurately explain what you’ve been fortunate to miss). Why an acclaimed filmmaker like Spielberg, who lives for the medium and its success, would be so quick to act as a gatekeeper is quite the enigma when you consider the impact of streaming has proven to have on the industry.
The exceptional Roma shouldn’t be seen as solely a Netflix film (or a TV movie, as Spielberg says), but rather much more simply as a Netflix-distributed film. It appeared in theaters a few weeks before its streaming release, which should be enough to exempt it from Spielberg’s criteria for “true cinema”, especially given how much he values the in-theater experience as a consumer of film. Beyond that traditionalist spin, the true value of a film like Roma being nominated for Best Picture (and rightfully so) comes from the lowered bar of entry for everyday fans of the medium to engage with worthwhile content.
Fortunately, Netflix themselves proved to be aware of this when they published their response on Twitter:
We love cinema. Here are some things we also love:
-Access for people who can’t always afford, or live in towns without, theaters
-Letting everyone, everywhere enjoy releases at the same time
-Giving filmmakers more ways to share art
These things are not mutually exclusive.
— Netflix Film (@NetflixFilm) March 4, 2019
There are over 150 million subscribers across 190 countries, and that number is only going to grow as the rights for more films like Roma are bought and distributed by the company. Thankfully, there are a number of noteworthy directors, writers, and actors standing alongside Netflix who recognize the impact that the service has had or can have on their work. Ava DuVernay had one of the best responses with her succinct tweet:
One of the things I value about Netflix is that it distributes black work far/wide. 190 countries will get WHEN THEY SEE US. Here’s a promo for South Africa. I’ve had just one film distributed wide internationally. Not SELMA. Not WRINKLE. It was 13TH. By Netflix. That matters. https://t.co/lpn1FFSfgG
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) March 3, 2019
While I do recognize the slight controversy for nominated films like Period. End of Sentence., which is offered as a Netflix-exclusive, even that specific example isn’t much of a difference between films that are subject to a limited release being nominated for an Oscar. If Spielberg and any other members of the Academy are truly torn up by the effect of Netflix on the industry, then they should be just as quick to abolish or update the rules regarding limited releases. Netflix has proven to play by the rules if you ignore the fact that they’re a streaming giant, but that shouldn’t be seen as a crutch to their success.
It’ll be interesting to see just how much steam Spielberg can pick up before the next Academy Board of Governors meeting. I’m hopeful that the backlash from industry professionals and casual moviegoers alike will motivate him to reconsider or drop the argument altogether, but for now, this whole story is rife with hypocrisy from an auteur who claims to have the medium’s best interests at heart.
Check out more of Jackson’s work at: www.jballing.com