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Netflix claps back as Steven Spielberg deems streaming un-Oscar-worthy

A battle rages on over the definition of ‘cinema’

Steven Spielberg speaks at Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences’ 10th Annual Governors Awards
Steven Spielberg speaks at the Academy’s 10th annual Governors Awards in November 2018.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

After a successful, if not turbulent, awards campaign during the most recent Oscars season, Netflix’s place among more traditional film studios is facing its biggest challenge yet. Award-winning director Steven Spielberg is reportedly campaigning to disqualify streaming services from the Academy Awards once and for all — but Netflix won’t go down without a fight, as it proved on Twitter this weekend.

IndieWire reports that Spielberg, who heads up the Academy’s directors branch, will argue in favor of changing the Oscars’ rules to prevent streaming services from entering the campaign field at the Academy Board of Governors’ next meeting. Because Netflix is a home-viewing platform, critics like Spielberg say that it’s better-suited for the Emmys, which celebrate TV, a medium inherent to home-viewing.

“Steven feels strongly about the difference between the streaming and theatrical situation,” a spokesperson from Spielberg’s production company, Amblin, told IndieWire. “He’ll be happy if the others will join [his campaign] when that comes up [at the Academy Board of Governors meeting]. He will see what happens.”

In response, Netflix defended itself against Spielberg. Late on Sunday, the Netflix Film account tweeted highlighted the service’s positive contributions to cinema:

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.

The prevailing argument is that the way Netflix eschews typical film releases — bringing its films to viewers’ homes at the same time as theaters — gives it an unfair advantage over other films, and may not meet Academy standards. The company also spends a large amount of money on its campaigns relative to other contenders, and enjoys a much wider potential viewership than films only shown in theaters.

But there’s no evidence to support that Netflix is breaking the current rules, as the Academy allows films that hit theaters for even a single weeks to qualify for awards. Still, traditionalists find Netflix’s practices a cause for concern. The Academy Governors will meet to discuss possible rule changes in April, an Academy spokesperson told IndieWire. It will be the first time the body meets since February’s Oscars ceremony.

The timing of Spielberg’s argument is important; Netflix’s Roma picked up several nominations in major categories this year, including Best Picture, and won three awards. Netflix also won the Best Documentary Short Subject award for Period. End of Sentence, another platform exclusive.

Roma’s nominations, and those of several other Netflix-exclusive films since the service began to seriously campaign for award recognition, has generated widespread controversy among the film industry. Netflix threw big money behind Roma, which the service ran in theaters a few weeks ahead of its platform premiere. Many of the bigger theater chains refused to carry Roma, however, arguing that its streaming presence violated theatrical exclusivity policies.

Netflix does have defenders in the Academy and film industry. Ava DuVernay, who directed exclusives for the platform like the documentary 13th and the upcoming When They See Us, tweeted about Netflix’s positive impact on filmmakers.

“One of the things I value about Netflix is that it distributes black work far/wide,” she said. “190 countries will get WHEN THEY SEE US. Here’s a promo for South Africa. I’ve had just one film distributed wide internationally. Not SELMA. Not WRINKLE. It was 13TH. By Netflix. That matters.”

Actor Bruce Campbell, famously of the Evil Dead series, tweeted, “Sorry, Mr. Spielberg, Roma ain’t no TV movie — it’s as impressive as anything out there. Platforms have become irrelevant. Make a movie with Netflix.”

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