Steven Spielberg, Netflix, and the “Real” Movie

Hey, have you heard about Roma? It received a short theatrical run before being released on Netflix, was nominated for a number of Oscars and picked up several major awards (including Best Director for Alfonso Cuaron) – and has set the debate on what makes a “real” movie release out in full force. Over the weekend, as you may have heard, it was reported that Steven Spielberg is planning to petition the Academy Awards body to disallow movies that had less than a four-week theatrical run to be eligible for an Oscar. It’s another in a long line of dismissive attitudes to movies released through non-traditional platforms – and, personally, I think it’s bullshit.

I think most obvious counter-argument to be made to this ridiculous notion is that the skills and artistry on display in Netflix films are just as valid as the ones that get a big-screen release. Are we really going to sit here and pretend that Alfonso Cuaron’s gorgeous Roma is somehow worth less than fucking Aquaman because it was released to a wide audience via a streaming service?  It’s such a patently absurd idea, and one that can be easily seen to come from a place of elitism and a terminally old-fashioned attitude to what films “should” be, rather than what they can be.

And there’s also the point to be made that Netflix allows for a more diverse range of directors to create and promote their work to a huge, international audience: in 2017, 27% Netflix original features were made by women, as opposed to just 12% across the rest of the year, and the platform claims to have partenered with more black creatives than any other since 2013. The newness of Netflix and original streaming content in general allows for a broader take on what films and TV shows “should” look like, and Netflix has consistently shown a commitment to giving marginalised voices face time with broad audiences. Brushing this aside makes it even harder for creators who don’t happen to be straight, white, and male to get critical recognition for their work.

The last year or so has seen some of the biggest releases for Netflix original movies since the platform starting creating unique content – whether it was the soaring highs of Annihilation, or the cultural phenomenon of Bird Box, Netflix has made all kinds of cinema more accessible to all kinds of people. Previously, movies like Ava DuVernay’s excellent 13th might have been limited in access to connoisseurs of their local independent cinemas, but with Netflix, a potential 117.6 million users could see his deeply relevant and deeply important documentary. The documentary was rightly nominated for an Academy Award, but with Spielberg’s new proposals, it wouldn’t have earned that distinction. And for what? For the sake of a few weeks of cinematic release?

I think the question that puzzles me over anything else is this one: why would any person passionate about movies want less people to see the cream of the crop? The bigger the community of film consumers, the wider the diversity of stories and criticism we earn as a result. And frankly, it’s bold of anyone who was involved in the making of the utter garbage that was Ready Player One to dare tell us what movies do and don’t deserve recognition.

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By Louise MacGregor

(header image via Den of Geek)

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