Earlier this year, reports suggested that Steven Spielberg could make a push at this week’s gathering of the Academy’s board of governors to decide on new Oscar nominee rules. Said rules would be to hit back at films that debut on streaming services such as Netflix receiving nominations.
Not only did that not happen, Spielberg has now walked back some of his past comments about the platform.
Initial reports by Indiewire this year suggested that Spielberg would attend the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences governors meeting — which took place yesterday — in an attempt to get the Academy’s rules changed when it came to nominees from streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu.
Currently, films that debut on streaming platforms, then also head to a limited theatrical run, reach the current release requirements for Oscar nomination qualification.
That was only part of why Spielberg was allegedly rankled by their presence at the Oscars, alongside the fact that Netflix in particular had the marketing money to vastly overwhelm other independent nominee hopefuls during awards season.
Netflix, on the other hand, argued that its place at the Oscars table meant that nominees such as Roma could reach a much wider audience by being accessible day-and-date on its service than they typically would have done with just a limited theatrical release.
Indiewire’s report wasn’t the first time it was said that Spielberg was allegedly against streaming service films being considered for Oscar eligibility — he told British press last year he thought Netflix’s output might be better suited for recognition at the Emmys rather than the Oscars, saying to ITV, “Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie.”
But it was this alleged plan to go to the Academy’s board this week that drew the most headlines — and even a reaction from Netflix itself:
We love cinema. Here are some things we also love:
-Access for people who can't always afford, or live in towns without, theaters
-Letting everyone, everywhere enjoy releases at the same time
-Giving filmmakers more ways to share art
These things are not mutually exclusive.
— Netflix Film (@NetflixFilm) March 4, 2019
But it turns out it was all for nought — not only did the Academy not change the rules around streaming services and their place at the Oscars, Spielberg didn’t even attend the meeting.
The New York Times reported yesterday that Spielberg was too busy working on his remake of West Side Story in New York to attend — and, citing sources, that the director believes his statements about Netflix have been overblown by the media.
But that alleged belief did not stop Spielberg from providing a comment to the Times, in which he walked back his earlier Emmys comments and said instead his priority wasn’t that services such as Netflix lost their seat at the Oscars table, but instead to preserve the idealism of the movie theatre experience:
I want people to find their entertainment in any form or fashion that suits them. Big screen, small screen—what really matters to me is a great story and everyone should have access to great stories.
However, 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 theatres. I want the theatrical experience to remain relevant in our culture.
It should be noted that Spielberg’s apparent change of heart comes after reports by The Hollywood Reporter last month that the director met with Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos in the wake of the news regarding his alleged campaign.
But re-positioning his concern about streaming services as a defence of the tangible moviegoing experience is a bit more noble than sneering that maybe the output of streaming services, in an age where there’s more and more of them on the way, should belong with those “teevee awards” instead of at the Oscars.