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Roma

There is an interesting debate being waged in the moviegoing community in the wake of the Oscars, and specifically, Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma contending in multiple categories at the Academy Awards. On one side of the argument is none other than Steven Spielberg, a film-making icon who feels, quite passionately, that movies made for a streaming service such as Netflix, should be viewed as television, and therefore not eligible for the Oscars. More on that in a moment. Recently, Netflix responded with the following Tweet that puts their argument into frame:

And now, the line in the sand gets drawn, and people can start taking sides. Only, the issue is that the “sand” keeps changing, and the line has to shift as the industry morphs to meet the moves of the streaming giants.

Let’s consider Netflix’s side of the argument, laid out in this new Tweet. In my humble opinion, the first and last point that they make in this Tweet give their argument real weight. While attending a special screening of Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma during the awards season, the movie’s lead actress Yalitza Aparicio told a story about the nearest theater to her Mexican home town being three hours away. No one she knew would even be able to see Roma if it was strictly a theatrical release. The streaming giant brings movies to people who simply aren’t conveniently located near a theater, like many of us in the United States are.

It’s that last point that makes the most sense to me, and it’s one that I’m surprised Steven Spielberg can’t recognize. Netflix is opening doors to filmmakers who are encountering closed doors from the studio system. And it’s not unrecognizable filmmakers. Spielberg need only to call his cherished friend Martin Scorsese and ask him why he’s making a movie like The Irishman for Netflix. According to all reports, Scorsese couldn’t get a studio to bankroll the movie because of the significant de-aging process that needed to be done on actors like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. Scorsese can’t get a gangster movie made in the current studio system! That means the theatrical model is marginally broken.

One reason why Steven Spielberg’s argument is losing water is because the distribution model of Netflix movies is changing by the minute. It used to be that movies made by Netflix had to have a day-and-date release with any sort of theatrical distribution for awards consideration. Mudbound by Dee Rees received a limited theatrical release so that it could contend for the Oscars, but it was made available on Netflix the same day, a move opposed by most major theater chains.

Recent films like Roma and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs continued to change that model, however. They got into theaters earlier than the movies made it on Netflix, giving them a longer, exclusive theatrical window. But most major theater chains still want a 90-day exclusivity window. This month, Ben Affleck’s Triple Frontier will be in theaters on March 6, then arrive on Netflix on March 13.

Neither side is necessarily wrong. It’s just misguided, in my opinion, to take a firm stance in a situation where the rules are changing as rapidly as they appear to be in this debate. If The Irishman is truly as good as Goodfellas or Casino, is Steven Spielberg going to demand that it’s not eligible for an Oscar because Martin Scorsese made it for Netflix, and only secured it a one- or two-week theatrical window? Are the rules hard and fast for everyone, or are they fluid? The debate rages on.

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