Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. That isn’t an exaggeration. Sure, not everyone is a fan of his brand of populist blockbuster entertainment, but you can’t argue with his legacy. Heck, even if you’re not the biggest fan of his work, I bet there’s at least a handful of his movies that you enjoy to some extent. From classics like Jaws, E.T., the Indiana Jones saga, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, to overlooked gems like Duel, The Color Purple, and Munich, his filmography is littered with gems that most filmmakers would kill for. No one knows how to tell a visual story as well as he does, and we’ll never see a director like him ever again.
Of course, Spielberg hasn’t been making headlines for his impressive oeuvre lately (and no, I’m not talking about Ready Player One, you rascals). The legendary director has been at the centre of debate because he’s at war with Netflix. And, as Spielberg’s masterpiece Saving Private Ryan shows us, war ain’t pretty.
If you’re unfamiliar with the recent developments, his ire towards the streaming service is due to Roma’s inclusion at this year’s Oscars. Spielberg doesn’t think that movies that are made exclusively for streaming services should qualify for Oscar contention because they don’t get released theatrically. He’s shared these opinions in the past as well. Roma, however, did get released theatrically before heading to Netflix — for a limited amount of time, anyway.
Academy guidelines state that, in order for a movie to qualify for awards contention, it must be screened theatrically for at least seven consecutive days, during which period screenings must occur at least three times daily. Movies that are initially broadcast through television, VOD/PPV, home media distribution, and internet transmissions are off-limits. However, according to some experts, Roma‘s theatrical tenure didn’t meet these requirements.
Spielberg plans to voice his concerns over the inclusion of streaming service releases at an upcoming Academy meeting, which could determine whether or not movies made exclusively for streaming are allowed at the Oscars in future. Naturally, opinion has been split throughout the industry and among fandom.
On one hand, the purists believe in the sanctity of the theatrical experience. They believe that Netflix movies, as well as other streaming service exclusives, are essentially TV movies and should only qualify for Emmys.
At the opposite end of the debate are the people who believe that Netflix movies are just as credible as theatrical releases. Considering that the streaming giant is attracting names like Martin Scorsese, it’s clear that even the best of the best view the platform as very credible.
I’m with the latter opinion. Roma is an incredible movie and deserves to be acknowledged as prestigious cinema. It’s as good as anything else that was up for Best Picture at this year’s event and perhaps it’s time the Academy changed its rules to accommodate the multitude of excellent movies that only available to stream.
Furthermore, Netflix is available in homes all around the world, which means that everyone who subscribes to the service has access to their releases. Some regions don’t have access to every theatrical release, so Netflix scores extra points in that department.
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
The streaming service has also garnered praise for giving its filmmakers creative freedom and providing opportunities to women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. If anything, Netflix is doing more to push cinema forward than other outlets. Representation is important, and stories told from different points of view makes cinema more interesting.
Maybe it’s time for the Academy to fully open its doors to these movies and for Spielberg to evolve with the times. He’s been the king for decades. He should know better than anyone when it’s time to embrace new platforms.
That said, I can also empathize with the opposite side of the debate who value the theatrical experience. Netflix should consider allowing more of its movies to play in theatres prior to their streaming availability. Mainly because seeing movies on the big screen is more satisfying.
But if they don’t want to go down that route, that shouldn’t make their films ineligible for Oscar contention either. Times are changing, and Netflix movies — as well as Amazon Prime, etc. — are going to continue to get bigger.
Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox