For movie fans it has been hard to miss the buzz surrounding Steven Spielberg and his crusade to keep streaming movies, most notably Netflix, out of consideration for the Oscars. Spielberg hasn’t spoken publicly since the announcement of his upcoming meeting with fellow members of the Academy’s board of governors, but past comments more than reveal his position.
Spielberg wants to preserve the movie theater experience, something I completely understand. I love going to the theater. It’s one of my favorite forms of entertainment and it allows me to see movies on the best screen and in the best setting. I can get behind filmmakers working to hold onto what many of us believe is the ideal way to view a movie.
But that’s about as far as I can go in defending Spielberg’s crusade. As well-intended as he may be, he seems to be overlooking the realities of the current movie watching landscape. It may hurt to admit it, but fewer and fewer people have or are developing the same deep affection for the theater experience that many of us have. But the benefits to having Netflix around go beyond that.
Filmmakers, specifically those who make independent movies, have been vocal in expressing how difficult it can be not only to get their films made but to get them to an audience. Netflix not only provides them creative freedoms and in some cases financial support. It also provides them a platform to reach people who otherwise would have a tough time seeing their movie. Obviously this isn’t a huge deal for the big budget pictures that Spielberg is known for.
But this isn’t just good for the filmmakers. Spielberg should know that not everyone lives in a big market. Not everyone has a slew of movie theater options. Personally speaking, I live in a state that either has to wait months before certain movies arrive or misses out on these films altogether. This is particularly true for indies and foreign films which eventually are made available on (ironically) streaming platforms.
There are several points where Spielberg’s position falls apart. Take this shot he took at Netflix: “I don’t believe that films that are given token qualifications, in a couple of theaters for less than a week, should qualify for Academy Award nominations“. This is funny considering how many movies pop up for a week on select big city screens at the end of year just to qualify for the Oscars.
Also, you would be tempted to think Spielberg judges movies by the size of the screen they appear on rather than the actual quality of the film. Obviously this is problematic for him. Let’s say a movie premieres at a festival and is picked up by A24. Everyone is fine. There is no outcry that the film should be disqualified from the Academy Awards. Now let’s say Netflix outbids A24 and lands the very same movie. Suddenly it’s treated as a different film simply because of the screen it’s viewed on.
Again, Spielberg has a genuine concern and preserving the movie theater experience is something many of us care about. At the same time you have to be realistic and forward-thinking. And as more celebrated filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Alfonso Cuaron tap into the benefits of Netflix, guys like Spielberg can either be open-minded or die fighting on that hill. And as I’ve said elsewhere, wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall when Spielberg tells Cuaron (“Roma”) or Scorsese (“The Irishman”) that their movies belong at the Emmys and not the Oscars?
As for the Academy, if they want to find a way to be even more irrelevant as some already perceive them to be, just ram through Spielberg’s proposal and tell filmmakers and viewers they aren’t making or watching Oscar-worthy movies. Watching the backlash would be far more entertaining than any Academy Awards broadcast of the last decade.
I would love to see these efforts put towards coexisting instead of separating. My biggest hope is that we can find a way to preserve the big screen experience while embracing the opportunities Netflix provides filmmakers and movie lovers. Sounds great doesn’t it? But is it even remotely realistic? I guess we’ll find out.