In an odd reactionary display, Steven Spielberg had recently called for a change in the Academy Awards eligibility criteria in order to rule out any chance for the streaming platform Netflix to be able to throw nominees in the race for an Oscar.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), which is responsible for handing down the Oscars, announced last week that it would not change the eligibility criteria that would’ve excluded Netflix-backed candidates.
The Academy maintains, however, its other rule, which states that, in order to be eligible, a film must have been shown in a Los Angeles county movie theater for seven consecutive days. Spielberg had asked for this delay to be extended to four weeks.
John Bailey, President of the Academy, commented, “we support the theatrical experience as integral to the art of motion pictures, and this weighed heavily in our discussions.” He added, “our rules currently require theatrical exhibition, and also allow for a broad selection of films to be submitted for Oscars consideration.”
Music to my ears. Bailey, and AMPAS, seem more attuned to the fact that this melancholy-induced thrashing by Spielberg et al. is both weird and useless. Netflix has sidled up and earned their seat at the table, they shouldn’t have to live with unusual constraints. The filmed entertainment ecosystem is rich and diversified enough that Netflix’s productions can run in festivals and awards ceremonies without the impositions that people like Spielberg would want to place on them, and exhibitors can still thrive. When I visited Florida this past January, I went to a multiplex in West Palm on three separate occasions. The concession stand (it was more like an Arby’s on steroids) was booming, the seats inside the theater were comfortable and horizontal, everything seemed right with the world.
There is a legal precedent to this latest development in the old exhibitor vs. online streaming platforms tiff: In March, the DOJ wrote a letter warning the Academy that changes to eligibility rules—which might freeze out competition from streaming services–might violate antitrust laws.
In elevating himself against Netflix, Spielberg, who is a board member of AMPAS, joins the chorus of institutions, such as the Cannes Festival, and others like it, to say nothing of countless film lovers, film critics, and film schools, who are hanging on to better (simpler?) days, when movie theaters (exhibitors) reigned supreme. I’m certainly not for the death of the movie theater, that would be against the Screen Comment orthodoxy. But Netflix has been an extraordinary boon for filmmakers, actors and producers, financing films that studios wanted nothing to do with. So again. This big and crazy world of screen entertainment can, and should, accommodate a behemoth Netflix, because the relationship between film exhibition and platform streaming is not binary, there is no cause-and-effect like filmmakers like Steven Spielberg would have us believe. I am going on a hunch here, but I just don’t believe it. People will wake up one day and realize, the future is here. And it’s been here.