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Back the F Away From Netflix, Mr. Spielberg

By Joelle Monique | Film | March 4, 2019 |

By Joelle Monique | Film | March 4, 2019 |


Extremely rich and incredibly famous film director, and producer, Steven Spielberg, has ramped up his case against streaming sites like Netflix from being eligible to win an Oscar. His disdain for the streaming service is nothing new. This elitist gatekeeping has been predicated on preserving the quality and sanctity of film. Spielberg explained, “I don’t believe that films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nominations.” But on closer inspection, making it harder for Netflix films to qualify for an Oscar hurts the chances of Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, and the disabled from delivering the speeches they have had prepared for years.

The founder of The Black List, a website designed to connect overlooked scripts with potential producers, Franklin Leonard, pointed out that the films Netflix brings to the Oscars highlight the social issues of Black and Indigenous people via his Twitter page. 13th, directed Ava DuVernay was a searing documentary on the 13th Amendment to the American constitution. Beasts of No Nation directed by Cary Fukunaga and starring Idris Elba was a dark look into the lives of child soldiers. Netflix gave legendary director Dee Rees a platform to share the powerful story of Mudbound, which highlighted the grip of slavery on the American people long after it was abolished. Finally, Roma, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, shed light on the plight of indigenous domestic workers in Mexico. This film gave first-time actress Yalitza Alparizo, an Oscar nomination.

In looking at the Oscars history and the recent access fans of the award show have granted themselves via social media, it’s hard to imagine Speilberg will be able to sway the Academy’s governors to exclude the one service consistently bringing diverse films to the table. Between #OscarsSoWhite, and the winning of Green Book over films like Blackkklansman and The Favourite, which was told through the lens of the marginalized instead of crafting feel-good movies for the oppressor, a step backward could really hurt the Oscars. The 12% increase in viewership this year cannot be guaranteed for next year. Likely, the hostless aspect combined with the controversy over which awards would air on television helped bring more people to the live screening.

In 2019, after 90 years of Oscars, there are still too many firsts. Outside of acting categories, only three Black women have Academy Awards, two were awarded at this years Oscars. Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter and Production Designer Hannah Belcher both won for their work on Black Panther. Though they were awarded to a major studio, surely more opportunities for women and people of color to shine couldn’t be a bad thing.

The fight over whether or not Netflix movies should be considered film has been brewing for nearly two years. At the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, Will Smith and famed Spanish Director Pedro Almodovar got into a heated debate. Netflix had presented both Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories.

Though both films had theatrical releases in France, the short notice and brief stint left Almodovar scared for the future of cinema. Reading from a prepared speech Almodovar stated, “I’ll be fighting for one thing that I’m afraid the new generation is not aware of. It’s the capacity of the hypnosis of the large screen for the viewer.” He continued stating, “The size [of the screen] should not be smaller than the chair on which you’re sitting. It should not be part of your everyday setting. You must feel small and humble in front of the image that’s here.”

Looking to do a little humbling himself, Will Smith chimed in with his own opinions. “In my house, Netflix has been nothing but an absolute benefit,” Smith said. “They get to see films they absolutely wouldn’t have seen. Netflix brings a great connectivity. There are movies that are not on a screen within 8,000 miles of them. They get to find those artists.”

The debate raged on as many film critics and cinephiles begged Netflix subscribers to see Roma in theaters instead of on their phones or laptops. Pushes like this shame those who are only able to afford their subscription to Netflix. Going to a movie theater costs the average American family $60-$70 on a night at the movies. A Netflix subscription is currently $10.99 but will increase to $12.99 later this year and can provide entertainment for every day of the month. Yes, Roma is gorgeous on a twenty-foot screen, but the heart of the film’s message doesn’t disappear if seen on an airplane. Demanding how people take in their entertainment is wild considering how many Academy members only see the docs and shorts nominated because of screeners sent to their home for free.

There is no wrong way to see a movie. While Netflix certainly isn’t a perfect platform, they weren’t exempt from sexist pay practices of standard Hollywood, but they have shown efforts to make improvements. Certainly, the issues at Netflix do not outweight the issues of the major studios or small independent sets. Spielberg disagrees. “Once you commit to a television format,” the director said “you’re a TV movie.” He did concede that perhaps they’d be worthy of an Emmy, but never an Oscar.

Speilberg and a group of peers intend to make a new rule that would require all films to have a wide release for four weeks. Theatrical runs are expensive and Netflix still isn’t making any money. DuVernay, who’s next film When They See Us will premiere on Netflix, has already asked the Oscars for an opportunity to express why she opposes Spielberg’s stance. No doubt this will be a debate that rages on for quite some time, with powerful opponents on each side. Later this year, Martin Scorsese, a friend of Spielberg, will release his latest film The Irishman on the streaming platform. Perhaps in agreement with Spielberg, Scorses has asked Netflix for a wide release.

Streaming platforms have opened a lot of questions for the academy. The film world has a long history of pushing out the poor and the disenfranchised. As the studio system was being built, women were pushed out of directing and producing and regulated to editing. Soon, they were escorted from the cutting room floor. The number of categories that have never seen a woman, women of color, disabled or queer person win is a staggering reminder that now is not the time to exclude those who haven’t succeeded in traditional filmmaking arenas.

Worried about the changes Netflix could bring Spielberg said, “Fewer and fewer filmmakers are going to struggle to raise money or to compete at Sundance and possibly get one of the specialty labels to release their films theatrically.” One can only hope Mr. Spielberg.

Header Image Source: Netflix