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Hollywood bigwigs weigh in on the Netflix-Steven Spielberg debate

Hollywood seems divided on the debate whether films produced and distributed by streaming platforms should compete for an Oscar. Stars like Ben Affleck, Seth Rogen, Kevin Costner and Kathy Bates recently reacted on the issue.

By: Entertainment Desk | New Delhi |
March 11, 2019 6:52:15 pm
steven spielberg Reports that Steven Spielberg intends to support rule changes that could block Netflix from Oscars-eligibility have provoked a heated and unwieldy online debate. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

Among the many controversies that rocked this year’s Oscars was the debate whether films produced and distributed by streaming services should compete for an Academy Award. The discussion took a serious turn when acclaimed director and multiple Oscar winner Steven Spielberg said movies that are released on streaming giants should vie for an Emmy instead of an Oscar.

While Steven has not explicitly stated that Netflix and similar streaming giants should be banned from the Oscars, the filmmaker has, on multiple occasions, expressed how he feels about the subject.

“I hope all of us really continue to believe that the greatest contributions we can make as filmmakers is to give audiences the motion picture theatrical experience. I’m a firm believer that movie theaters need to be around forever,” the director had said in his acceptance speech for his Filmmaker Award at the Cinema Audio Society’s CAS Awards.

Last year the ET filmmaker said films that release on streaming platforms should get recognised by the Emmys instead. “Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” the director told ITV News in March 2018. “You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar. I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination,” he had added.

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Since then, the whole issue has blown up, and there have been reports stating that Steven, who is an Academy Governor of the directors’ branch, will propose changes that will slim down the chances of streaming companies grabbing the coveted golden trophy. A number of Hollywood bigwigs have come forward to state their opinion on the matter.

While The Highwaymen stars Kathy Bates and Kevin Costner are divided about whose side they are on, Kevin said that he could see that both involved parties are making fair points.

“I hear all the arguments,” the actor told Variety recently. “When you hear intelligent people talking, almost after one finishes, you go, ‘Yeah, that’s a good point.’ And if you’re really listening and if you haven’t already made up your mind, then you listen to somebody else and you go, ‘That’s equally a good point,'” Kevin added.

However, Kathy seemed to side with Steven Spielberg as she said, “I just think, showing them for a week just to qualify, people don’t seem them — I don’t know, I kind of think that’s dirty pool. I shouldn’t say ’cause Netflix has been very, very good to me. I just think that streaming is one thing, but the theater’s another.” For the uninitiated, Netflix and similar streaming giants have a one-week window where they are allowed to release their movie on the big screen so that they can have an equal stake during the Oscar season.

Netflix, meanwhile, has fought back the criticism with a statement that read, “We love cinema. Here are some things we also love: Access for people who can’t always afford, or live in towns without, theatres, letting everyone, everywhere enjoy releases at the same time and giving filmmakers more ways to share art. These things are not mutually exclusive.”

While both the candidates have pitched their standpoint to the media, the who’s who of Hollywood continue to speak up on the issue.

Roma filmmaker and Oscar winner Alfonso Cuaron told Variety post winning the Oscar that while he loves the theater experience himself since he is a director, he also understands that companies like Netflix help take the film to more people, therefore giving it the necessary push.

“For me, the conversation about theatrical is super important. I’m a filmmaker. I believe in the theatrical experience. But there has to be diversity. The multiplex theatrical experience is a very gentrified experience. You have one kind of product with a few variations. It’s hard to see art-house films. It’s hard to see foreign films. Most theaters play big Hollywood movies,” Alfonso told Variety, whose latest release has been distributed by and released on Netflix.

Meanwhile, filmmaker and actor Ben Affleck side-stepped the question while he was promoting his action-thriller Triple Frontier that has been released on Netflix. “I’m not entirely sure how it’s going to look. There’s some controversy, people have different opinions but it’s definitely also fun to be part of what Netflix is doing because they’re heavily invested in telling stories, they want a lot of stuff out there, and there’s a thrill and a rush and excitement to that,” the actor concluded.

Acclaimed filmmaker Ava DuVernay said that while she cannot freely comment on the ongoing debate, she certainly feels Netflix has helped make a difference to her content as it helped with the exposure it needed at the time. “One of the things I value about Netflix is that it distributes black work far/wide. 190 countries will get WHEN THEY SEE US. Here’s a promo for South Africa. I’ve had just one film distributed wide internationally. Not SELMA. Not WRINKLE. It was 13TH. By Netflix. That matters,” Ava said whose series When They See Us will premiere this summer on Netflix.

Speaking on the sidelines of the South by Southwest Festival, actors Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron supported the big screen experience. “Personally, with our comedies, I think a theater is the best place to see them…There is an uproarious communal experience. You all feel like you’re partaking in something together,” Seth said.

On the other hand, Seth’s co-star Charlize said, “I think it’s a good thing we have all different formats… it’s not 20 years ago and there’s only one way you can do it. That freedom has opened up for more interesting filmmakers, and for people to actually see their movies…but there is a magical thing that happens when you’re in a room full of strangers, and you can’t recreate that in your home, or an airplane, or on the subway.”

Renowned British director Mike Leigh feels that streaming companies like Netflix and Amazon act like old-style Hollywood moguls. In an interview with The Guardian, Mike said that while he himself had had good working experience with Amazon, he knows of directors who weren’t as lucky.

“I’m not talking about my own experience with Amazon, who backed Peterloo and who behaved impeccably: the problem really exists for younger filmmakers…The new streaming services all like to say they don’t work like Hollywood. But, actually, by suggesting a director works with a particular team, or asking why you are not using a female cinematographer, or wondering whether the film should have an upbeat ending, they are behaving in a traditional Hollywood, Louis B Mayer-way and it is totally unacceptable,” the director said.

Steven Spielberg, who had co-founded the now-dissolved film studio DreamWorks in 1994, seems to have a personal stake in this whole affair. And it’s easy to understand why; after all, if you have grown up consuming cinema on the big screen and have done exemplary work in the said field and once upon a time owned a film studio that made millions of dollars, then your resistance-to-change response becomes transparent.

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