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Why the acclaimed Roma wasn’t even eligible for Best Picture at the Golden Globes

And what does its win mean for its Oscar chances?

Cleo gazing out the window of a car as the family children cling to her.
Yalitza Aparicio in Roma.

As awards season speeds towards the Oscars, Netflix is pinning all its hopes for glory on Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, which began a limited theatrical run in November and hit the streaming platform in December. Oscar prognostication suggests that, thanks to near-universal critical acclaim, the film has a shot at Best Picture — which raises the question of why the Golden Globes, despite awarding it for Best Director and Best Foreign Language Film, left the film out of the Best Motion Picture - Drama category this year.

The answer comes down to a rule snafu: the Hollywood Foreign Press Association bylaws specify that, to be nominated in either Best Motion Picture category, a film must be English-language, thereby preventing any film that would take the Best Foreign Language Film award from taking a top Best Motion Picture prize as well.

Luckily for Roma — and for Netflix — the same rules don’t apply at the Oscars, where, despite being Mexico’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film, Roma is still eligible to become a Best Picture nominee. Its foreign-language Best Picture nominee predecessors are few — ten total, none of which have won — but Netflix has been going the extra mile this year in order to ensure that its film receive proper consideration.

As Netflix continues breaking into the prestige game (an effort that’s been building with films like Beasts of No Nation, Okja, and Mudbound), its rules as to when its films will hit streaming and whether or not they’ll receive theatrical engagements have continued to shift. The last couple of years have found the streaming giant at odds with Cannes Film Festival given how rarely — if at all — its films receive theatrical distribution.

The company’s inclination to fourth-wall, however, has shifted. Several films from Netflix’s 2018 slate — Private Life, Bird Box, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and Roma — hit theaters, while the awards campaign for Roma has only ramped up as the Oscars have drawn closer. (Roma in particular has also been fodder for discussion with regards to how imperative, or unimportant, it is to see the film in a proper theater.)

The film, which stars Yalitza Aparicio as a domestic worker named Cleo, is based on Cuarón’s own upbringing. Shot in sequence and in black and white, it’s one of the most striking works of the past year. That it took home the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film (and that Cuarón won for Best Director) bodes well for the film’s Oscar chances, though it remains to be seen whether or not it will make it into the running for Best Picture.

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