Last week, Steven Spielberg ignited a debate on Twitter (the worst place for debates!) about whether or not Netflix movies should be considered for Oscars. Spielberg plans to voice his concerns at an upcoming Academy meeting. Because Twitter doesn’t do nuance, people felt that they had to either side completely with Spielberg or completely with Netflix, missing the value of the Oscars, the value of Netflix, and asking what qualifies as cinema in the streaming age.
For Spielberg’s part, his argument is that Netflix hurts theatrical distribution. It’s an argument that’s easy to counter because theatrical distribution has been damaged for a while due to rising ticket prices, subpar exhibition, and the unwillingness of major studios to fund anything outside of prestige indies and massive blockbusters. If a major studio isn’t going to distribute a movie like Roma—a black and white film in Spanish with no movie stars—you can’t really fault Netflix for stepping up. If you think that the Oscars should only reward movie that receive theatrical distribution and uphold the theatrical experience, then shouldn’t Spielberg be campaigning against DVD screeners for Academy members as well?
Netflix isn’t the biggest threat to theatrical distribution; it’s just the new thing. Hollywood railed against television when TV came along, and then discovered they could make more money by selling TV rights. Hollywood railed against VHS rentals when it came along, claiming it would encourage piracy. And then Hollywood wised up and realized VHS rentals were a new revenue stream and happily partnered with Blockbuster. Every “threat” to Hollywood eventually just becomes a new source of income, and streaming will be no different. Whether those movies deserve Oscar consideration is a different issue.
Donald Trump called Ted Cruz a liar.
Cruz called Trump a liar. I believe them both.