By Josh Tarpley
During the 2015 awards cycle, Idris Elba became the first actor to win a SAG award and not receive a corresponding nomination from the Oscars (Best Supporting Actor – “Beasts of No Nation”). There were two issues raised in the aftermath of that unprecedented event. First, with 2015 being the second consecutive year of #OscarsSoWhite, critics railed against the Academy for failing to recognize Elba’s performance that was award worthy to almost all other groups. Secondly, to put it simply: “The Netflix Effect.”
Streaming services and their role in film production has become the talk of the industry this month, click beyond the jump to read more about how the Academy is grappling with the new ways audiences view film.
Last week about 300 Academy members met to discuss issues pertaining to the Oscars and the industry as a whole. Though only a small portion of voters attended the meeting, this was only the second time an all member invitation went out. These are the types of meetings that Oscar fans would love to be a fly on the wall for. Though there wasn’t a live stream or notes taken during this meeting, Deadline has reported some key snippets of what was discussed, mainly the issue of streaming services and if “Netflix films” should be eligible for Academy awards.
When Elba failed to garner a nomination for his work in “Beasts of No Nation,” it was unclear if that was a failure on behalf of Netflix (failing to campaign the movie with screeners and in person events/screenings) or a bias the Academy was expressing towards the new medium. It is becoming clearer that both are in play. Though it was easy to blame Netflix for failing to promote “Beasts of No Nation,” all signs are pointing towards a more serious approach to the Oscars this year (i.e. “Mudbound”).
Additional Reading: Is Netflix Ready To Play With The Big Boys In The Oscar Race
Though we are grappling with the idea of “if” Netflix will put the work into the awards season, this Academy meeting/discussion brings up the issue if they will even be allowed. The issue: if a film plays in New York and LA for a single weekend, but is then immediately put on a streaming service, should it qualify for Oscar consideration. This was the main dialogue happening at this year’s Cannes film festival as well, with this choice quote from director Pedro Almodovar framing the conversation,
“I personally don’t perceive the Palme d’Or [should be] given to a film that is then not seen on the big screen.”
This summer’s “Okja” was the talk of the town for Cannes, and “Mudbound” will be the test this Oscar season. I broke down my thoughts on the events of Cannes here, my main takeaway was that movies should be seen on the big screen and it is a shame that Netflix fails to promote quality work in their deluge of high quality content (i.e. Angelina Jolie’s fourth film was put on the service last month and its possible for general audiences to have no clue it exists). While I still hold to the “Theaters > Netflix” worldview, that doesn’t mean I think the Academy should punish Netflix by taking their films out of consideration.
On the television side, the embrace of streaming services has meant extremely high quality content has been recognized, whether it be nominations (“House of Cards,” “Transparent,” “Master of None,” “The Crown”) or a streaming service taking a top prize in this year’s Emmy ceremony (Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”). The television academy has fully embraced streaming services. It makes sense for them to do so, we have always viewed television on the small screen in our living rooms. It is not that big of a jump to go from your TV screen to your laptop to your tablet to your phone. It is a big jump to go from experiencing film in a theater to experiencing film on your phone.
On one hand, this is a real conversation the film industry, the Academy and we in the audience should be having. Millions of dollars are put into producing a film, so it begs the question, “what is the proper way to experience this art?” On the other hand, the Academy taking an explicit anti-Netflix position only serves to further separate them from new generation of film fans they have been courting these past years.
On one hand, it is a shame that “Beasts of No Nation,” “Okja,” “First They Killed My Father” and (most likely) “Mudbound” do not get the full attention they deserve as Netflix quietly releases them on their service. On the other hand, Netflix is spending big money, financing and releasing movies that traditional studios wouldn’t dare touch. I would hope that Netflix would follow Amazon’s example: a traditional theatrical run before releasing a film on the streaming service (see “Manchester By The Sea,” “The Big Sick”).
Until Netflix budges, the current system will have to do (a qualifying run in theaters for a weekend alongside a worldwide debut on the streaming service). It is worth pointing out that typical Oscar fare has played a similar game for years. There are always movies that are released in NYC/LA on December 31st with a possible wide release set for January/February (it always makes it hard for us list-makers across the country). As long as the Academy tolerates the December 31st game, they should tolerate Netflix’s attempt to break into the awards race.
You can follow Josh and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @JoshTarpley7