Steven Spielberg, as the Academy Governor representing directors, has taken the stance that streaming companies like Netflix should only be able to compete for Emmy’s (as television features) and not Academy Awards. A little strange considering his most recent feature was Ready Player One, a messy amalgam of pop-culture references glorifying the power of online spaces. But sure.
This statement comes in month proceeding the Academy board meeting that will possibly revise rules to keep Netflix from competing. There is a general practice in play that movies will run in theaters for at least 90 days before being made available for any kind of home viewing. This is clearly something that movie theaters like, though it’s not mandated for Oscar eligibility. The current Academy rule is:
“a qualifying run of at least seven consecutive days, during which period screenings must occur at least three times daily, with at least one screening beginning between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.daily”https://www.oscars.org/sites/oscars/files/91aa_rules.pdf
So changing that would bar Netflix features from the Oscars as it is their policy to release things immediately to streaming, or at least only waiting that week to remain eligible. Which makes sense. Netflix is a distribution company and it would seem like a self-defeating move to produce award nominated films that no one cold see until after award season.
But why would Spielberg propose these changes? Well, he’s a huge proponent of experiencing movies in theaters. But more than that, he seems hung up on the consumption of media more so than the media itself. It’s hard to tell how much of his position is selfish, a desire for more tickets sold, and how much is a lack of awareness of movies today. A lot of how he’s going about this seems more like someone who is wildly out of touch with modern viewing than anything else.
From a viewer’s standpoint, this seems like a terrible move. There are categories that hugely benefit from this. Documentaries are currently booming, and one of the short form documentaries was available on Netflix at the time of the Oscars, and another was streaming on Vimeo for free. And let’s take a look at Roma compared to Cold War. Both are foreign language features, both were nominated for best foreign language film, and both were produced by online streaming companies (Netflix and Amazon respectively). But only one was available to the public in a streaming capacity before the Oscars, and that’s the one that people are talking about. From a movie watcher’s perspective, this seems like an awful idea. The only thing it accomplishes is limiting the audience
His gatekeeping could have huge ramifications when it comes to race and class, though that may not be his intent.
Beyond accessibility, Netflix seems ludicrously flush with cash. And while they produce a seemingly endless number of cheap genre movies, they also put their money into projects that simply might not get picked up by more traditional production companies and distributors. Just take a look at their $150 million deal with Shonda Rhimes. She jumped from ABC, a Disney company, to get a guaranteed 8 shows made at Netflix. Yes, those are TV shows and not films, but that’s an indication of where Netflix is looking to spend money.
This ruling wouldn’t just affect indie creatives, minority creators, and overlooked directors. This year Martin Scorsese is releasing on Netflix. It will star Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. None of those people are a risk for Netflix, and none of them are hurting for exposure. But if Steven Spielberg has his way this movie will be ineligible for an Academy Award regardless of the quality of the movie or performances. Which leads me to believe that Spielberg is more interesting in keeping alive a facade of golden-age cinema than being a sort of nefarious sentry. Still, it’s not a good move for Spielberg to advocate, or for the Academy to take up. Here’s hoping that the Academy makes itself a bit more relevant by attempting to keep up with current cinema, rather than dragging the industry awards into a bygone time.