Steven Spielberg clarifies his stance on Netflix’s Oscar eligibility as the Academy has voted against his proposed resolution to affect the service’s chances at future Academy Awards. The Academy’s move has, thankfully, kept the playing field open for the service and its many creators of color.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Academy’s board of governors voted to keep Rule Two, Eligibility, as is. The rule requires that films have a one-week exclusive screening at an L.A. County theater in order to be eligible for Best Picture nomination. This news is a victory for Netflix, streaming services in general and creators of color who find easier avenues to entry via streaming.
The vote comes after reports of director Steven Spielberg proposing that a new rule be put in place that demands films screen for four weeks instead of one, seemingly as a way to keep streaming services out of the running, particularly after Roma won big at the 2018 Oscars and was Netflix’s closest brush with the Best Picture win.
On Wednesday, the day before the news about the Academy board’s voting results broke, The New York Times reports via sources that Spielberg felt his original statements about Netflix were “overstated” by the media and that his feelings weren’t necessarily about Netflix, but “[r]ather, he is frustrated that exhibitors have been unwilling to compromise” and “and fought off any effort to shorten the exclusive period they get to play films of any genre, which is currently about 90 days.” According to the Times’ sources, Spielberg called AMC and Regal to play Roma in theaters, but they refused.
He also wrote an email response to the Times, stating that his fight is to preserve the communal theater-going experience, not limit which films get Oscar nominations.
“I want people to find their entertainment in any form or fashion that suits them,” he wrote. “Big screen, small screen–what really matters to me is a great story and everyone should have access to great stories.”
“However,” he continued, “I feel people need to have the opportunity to leave the safe and familiar of their lives and go to a place where they can sit in the company of others and have a shared experience–cry together, laugh together, be afraid together–so that when it’s over they might feel a little less like strangers. I want to see the survival of movie theaters. I want the theatrical experience to remain relevant in our culture.”
As The Hollywood Reporter writes, these statements are vastly different from what he told ITV News in 2018. “Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” he is reported as having said. “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.” He also told the Cinema Audio Society in February about the importance of preserving the movie theater, saying, “The greatest contribution we can make as filmmakers is to give audiences the motion picture theatrical experience. I’m a firm believer that movie theaters need to be around forever.”
Even though Spielberg appears to be recanting his previous statements, Spielberg’s alleged proposal to the Academy board was still aimed at hurting Netflix and, by proxy, other streaming services’ chances at the Academy Awards. However, despite the reports buzzing about Spielberg’s proposal, his friend, producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, told The Hollywood Reporter that Spielberg “has not opined at all” on changing the board’s rules and had no plans to advocate for it. This could also be true since Spielberg was not present to speak on the proposal during the Academy’s April rules meeting.
Spielberg was also taken to task by social media for his alleged slight at Netflix as well as his prominent relationship with Apple TV+, a new rival streaming service. It made many wonder how Spielberg’s view on streaming would affect his stance on whether his own Apple productions should be eligible for the Oscars. Overall, many people of color, particularly creators, felt Spielberg was being territorial and missing the reason why streaming services are important to many creators of color, as it is the one platform where being different is seen as a business advantage, not a hindrance.
“Inclusive stories should be seen as a risk; there is a greater risk in doing the same thing over and over again,” said Cindy Holland, Netflix’s Vice President of Original Content, to Essence. “The great thing about Netflix is that we have limitless shelf space, so there is room for many different types of stories told in many different ways. We know that our members have diverse and eclectic tastes, and our programming needs to reflect that.”
Indeed, Netflix has had tremendous success with its diverse slate of film and TV, including new and upcoming offerings like Beyoncé’s documentary Homecoming, Spike Lee’s protege Stefon Bristol’s time-traveling sci-fi film See You Yesterday and others. And, as with Roma, the service has made inroads into the Academy Awards, starting with Dee Rees’ Mudbound.
In short, Netflix and creators of color 1, Spielberg 0.
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