When it comes to films contending for the Oscars, legendary director Steven Spielberg is campaigning to keep streaming services like Netflix out of the prestigious competition. Rather, he hopes the Academy Awards will only honor conventional, made-for-theatrical-release films—all the while, exceptional Netflix films can win Emmys instead. Serving as the Academy Governor of the directors branch during this time of sweeping technological change—that is, when film audiences can conveniently watch on-demand films from home while wearing pajamas for far less money than venturing out to theaters—Spielberg will seek to have the awards rules modified to protect conventional productions, as well as the longevity of movie theaters, during the upcoming Academy Board of Governors meeting.

Spielberg is not alone in his concerns. Indeed, hundreds of his fellow members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) gathered together late last year to discuss what exactly defines a “movie” these days. After all, films that are exclusively streamed are considered ineligible to compete for Oscars; rather they battle for Emmys. However, by simply purchasing slots in theaters for a minimal amount of time, Netflix films can fulfill the current Academy requirement for entries. Is it fair that a movie potentially wins both an Emmy and an Oscar? What exactly are the boundaries? What precisely should the rules be? If the rules are left as is, some Academy members have expressed that streaming services could represent “a cheapening of the Oscar.” Although it’s not yet clear which eligibility rules might change, requiring longer theater runs, perhaps up to four weeks, is likely to be one of them.

“Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” the famous director insisted in an ITV News interview last spring. “You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar. I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”

In response, a heated debate has ensued over the topic of just which projects should qualify to compete for Oscars. In fact, certain Netflix films are following the current Academy rules, and many people believe they should be taken just a seriously as other conventional films.

For example, Alfonso Cuaron’s drama film Roma had a world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival in August of 2018, followed by a limited theatrical run starting in November, and then streamed on Netflix starting in December. It ended up receiving ten Academy Award nominations this year—winning three for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Cinematography, and Best Director. Roma was the first film distributed primarily by a streaming service that went on to be nominated for Best Picture.

Additionally, restricting the Oscar rules to prevent movies from Netflix could affect content outside of the streaming giant’s productions. For example, qualified independent releases that spend only a limited time in theaters would be at risk of being disqualified right along with Netflix films.

Academy Award-nominated director Ava DuVernay believes Netflix provides filmmakers of color with more opportunities to distribute their content than the film studio system. She is currently editing a Netflix production When They See Us to be released in May. “One of the things I value about Netflix is that it distributes black work far/wide. 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,” DuVernay tweeted.

The Black List founder, Franklin Leonard, likewise supports streaming services having their films qualify for the Oscars. He said that Netflix has been a support for all filmmakers, including women and people of color, who tend to have a harder time getting backing from traditional Hollywood studios. “I think we can all agree that the theatrical experience is worth protecting. I, for one,  do,” he tweeted. “I also think we can all agree that it is more difficult for films by and about women, people of color, and myriad other communities to access the resources necessary to secure an exclusive four-week theatrical window.”

One AMPAS governor insists, however, “We don’t make movies, we celebrate them.”

What are your thoughts? Do you believe Netflix movies should qualify to compete for Oscars? Or should they “stay in their lane” and simply be considered Emmy material?

 

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