Unless you live under a rock, in a space devoid of any access to entertainment news, you’ll undoubtedly have heard about prolific director Steven Spielberg’s newest mission. No, he’s not bringing back E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, or backing a new Indiana Jones movie. The filmmaker is now attempting to get the rules of the Academy Awards tightened down so that streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and the like would be exempt from Oscar consideration going forward.
Some of us fans are baffled by this move. Presumably, the prolific director/producer has gotten his pants in a twist over Alfonso Cuarón’s Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Foreign Language Film wins at this year’s Oscars for Roma. Still, to some of us, this feels a bit like the old “Things were better in my day!” tantrum of someone who is falling out of touch with the ways entertainment is enjoyed by fans everywhere.
Spielberg’s main sticking point for his argument is that movies should be about the “theatrical experience”. I mean, who doesn’t love sitting in a theater in front of a 2852 – 21002 foot screen, shoving overpriced sugary snacks in our cake-holes, while some complete tool runs their mouth to their friends or on their cell phone, & young children loudly ask their parents what EVERYTHING is throughout the entire film? Yeah, yeah… I know… I have a cynical outlook on other people sometimes. Still, there are several other reasons that Spielberg is still wrong, in my opinion. Let’s take a look at those, shall we?
One of the things that streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and others do very well, is to bring independent films to those who may not otherwise have known about (or had a chance to see) them. Netflix in particular has been at the forefront of this since its early days, licensing and distributing such great indie films like Sherrybaby and Born into Brothels on its service. These types of critically acclaimed movies can be just as difficult and time consuming to make as theatrically released films, and take just as much talent and creativity to bring to life. Still, most people would never get to see them in theaters. That’s where home streaming comes in. Indie films have been known to wow audiences just as much (and sometimes more) than the blockbuster theatrical films for which we see commercials every couple of months. Personally, I’ve been a fan of these types of movies for quite some time, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Films like these may not have happened if it weren’t for services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and they are still that: FILMS.
Then, of course, there are the originals that only appear on these services. Movies like The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Beasts of No Nation, and Bird Box, have brought more attention to Netflix (as if it needed it), and garnered high acclaim from critics and fans alike. The original films that are exclusive to Amazon Prime aren’t anything to sneeze at either. The documentary I am Not Your Negro is an incredible story based on the James Baldwin novel, Remember This House. It’s a sobering tale of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, which really shows us how much further we have to go as a society. There’s also The Big Sick, in which Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan bring laughs and tears to audiences in a great romantic comedy about navigating a relationship while dealing with cultural differences and heavy medical odds.
Finally, and by far not the least reason that “the theatrical experience” doesn’t always work for everyone, is that there are lots of film lovers out there who just can’t get to the theater. In this case, I’m talking about people who have disabilities or other issues which prevent them from either leaving their homes, or physically getting to/navigating a movie theater. With as cramped as theaters can get, and the fact that some folks don’t respect the accessible seating, there are lots of times that wheelchair users (like myself) simply can’t get into a movie theater to see films right away. Additionally, there are those who have anxiety disorders or cannot sit comfortably in a public setting, which makes the ability to stream movies in the comfort and safety of their homes all the more important.
Switching gears a bit, I think it’s also important to talk about how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences makes its decisions about who gets the awards every year. So, here’s a bit of a TL:DR for you.
For the majority of the Academy Awards, nominees are chosen by those within a specific aspect of the industry (wardrobe designers for Best Costumes, makeup artists for Best Makeup, etc.). The exception to this rule is, of course, Best Picture. The nominees in that category are chosen by the entire Academy. Similarly, the winners of each category are also chosen by all Academy members, regardless of their respective role(s) in the industry as a whole.
What does this mean? Well, it means that while art is still subjective, what’s considered to be “the best” is essentially picked by the “experts in the field(s)”. So, whether Spielberg or we (i.e. the fans) agree, what are our voices when weighed against the voices of those experts regarding what film wins, or what should even be included?
Now, this system of “peer review” is not without its flaws – the main one being the inherent biases of those aforementioned “experts”. We got a good look at one of these biases when #OscarsSoWhite reared its head. The overwhelmingly Caucasian membership in the Academy chose whatever fit their personal (and privileged) vision, and it was (unfortunately as expected) overwhelmingly ignorant and white.
As expected, Netflix’s film division has fired back at Spielberg’s statements. In a tweet on March 4th, the folks over at the streaming service made it clear that they are all about great film content. While they didn’t mention Spielberg specifically, it’s clear that they heard what he said and were not amused.
So what have we gleaned from this, dear readers? Well, one thing is for sure. No one person is bigger than film. While Spielberg has undoubtedly earned respect and admiration for his long and prolific career, I’ve got just one question: Who the hell does he think he is to say what films are or are not eligible for awards? Granted, there have been a lot of theatrical dumpster fires nominated for (and awarded) a Best Picture Oscar. So, why not open a path of consideration up to innovative creators? If a system sucks, but isn’t technically broken? Break it. Stagnation simply breeds disease. And, as we mentioned above, that stagnation is pretty much how we ended up with #OscarsSoWhite.
These are just my thoughts, though, friends. Let me know what you think about what Spielberg wants to accomplish by barring the original films that we see on services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and the like from being considered for Academy awards. Leave me a message in the comments section down below, and don’t forget to follow Pop Culture Uncovered on Twitter and Facebook!