Steven Spielberg has made some of the movie industry’s biggest-ever films, and now he officially wants to help define exactly what is an Academy Award-worthy film. The director hasn’t taken the rise of streaming services too kindly, and the idea of a company like Netflix distributing an Oscar-worthy title just doesn’t sit well with Spielberg.
Roma winning three Oscars seems to have been a bridge too far for the director, who has been critical of streaming services in the past and now wants to limit their ability to win awards altogether. According to IndieWire, Spielberg is mounting a serious campaign to change the Academy rules about what qualifies as an Oscar-worthy film, and those changes would be centered around the theatrical run of movies up for major awards.
“Steven feels strongly about the difference between the streaming and theatrical situation,” a spokesperson for Amblin — Spielberg’s production company — told IndieWire. “He’ll be happy if the others will join [his campaign] when that comes up [at the Academy Board of Governors meeting]. He will see what happens.”
There’s a small list of grievances about how Netflix managed to buy the rights to and campaign for an Oscar for Roma despite it having an extremely limited time in theaters before it hit the platform. Netflix put together a huge For Your Consideration campaign for Roma, which fell short of winning Best Picture but saw wins in other major categories like Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography.
For some, winning a Best Picture Oscar would have essentially let the wall between streaming and theatrical releases fall, something Netflix was certainly hoping for and invested a lot of money in. But Spielberg and other critics of streaming’s influence in film and the weakening importance of seeing movies in theaters certainly wants that to change. The problem with Netflix buying and distributing capital f Films is that it’s just never been done like that before. Movies traditionally go straight to theaters and there’s at least a 90-day exclusivity period before they end up available elsewhere.
But Netflix doesn’t want that to happen anymore. In fact, it barely wants its movies in theaters at all. Roma, for example, got a three-week theatrical run, barely any time at all when compared to other major releases. There are other concerns as well — Netflix doesn’t report box office numbers and their streaming numbers are not trusted by most critics. Which is why Spielberg and others believe that a model like that would reduce any film released on a streaming platform as a TV movie, certainly not something with the luster the silver screen brings. None of those concerns violate Academy rules, though the thinking is that perhaps they should.
There’s also the undercurrent here that Netflix spent so much on promoting Roma, that they simply blew other contenders for awards right out of the water. This is especially the case in the Foreign Film category, where other smaller distributors simply couldn’t put up the money to compete with Roma. That new money, and money spent just to fundamentally alter the movie industry’s generally agreed-upon rules, doesn’t sit well with the traditional players.
Not everyone agrees, though it’s also worth noting that many who have criticized Spielberg are currently working with Netflix.
The battle isn’t just over how we watch movies, but who controls what films people see in the first place. And it’s tough to pick a “side” here, so to speak, but it’s clear that Netflix wants things to be different in the movie industry. And Spielberg thinks things are fine the way they are. Or, perhaps more accurately at this point, the way they were.