For only the second time in the Academy’s history, there was a members-only meeting held last Thursday. According to Deadline, about 300 people attended, and one of the things they talked about was Netflix, and their potential eligibility in future Oscar races. Netflix has managed success at the Emmys, but they have yet to be a force at the Oscars, though it seems the Academy is preemptively worried about the day they field a real contender. Or maybe what they’re really worried about is the degrading theatrical audience and Netflix is the scapegoat. Or perhaps they’re worried about filmmakers making deals with Netflix (which is eager to support the kinds of projects traditional studios and distributors won’t touch anymore). Maybe the Coen Brothers defecting was the last straw. It doesn’t matter, because this Netflix stuff is the same as the diversity stuff is the same as the ratings stuff—just f*cking join the 21 century, Oscars. Sh*t is changing. Deal with it.
True Story: I have been trying to see Columbus for a whole MONTH. It’s a limited release, with a slow, microscopically expanding platform. I live in Chicago, a Top 10 Major Market, and I only just made it to a screening. And you know what? It’s SPECTACULAR. It’s the “kind of movie they just don’t make anymore”. (Full review coming tomorrow.) It’s a movie I am eager for everyone to see, but simply put, not everyone can see it. If it took a month for me to get to it, there isn’t a chance in hell anyone living in a small market will get it, and the mid-level cities are a total crapshoot. And that’s a shame, because this is one of the best films I’ve seen all year. Leaving the theater, I thought—I wish this was on Netflix. I wish it was that easy for people to see.
And that is it, in simplest terms. Ease of access now belongs to Netflix, streaming services, and VOD. It’s cheaper and easier for people to stay at home and watch a movie on their TV. Does that make it less of a movie? Of course not, just as the advent of sound didn’t make talkies any less of a film than a silent movie. But that’s where we are—we’re reliving the introduction of sound to cinema. I’ve been predicting this shift for seven years, since I started writing about film. To me, the issue was so obvious I honestly thought we’d get here sooner. But the film industry—and the Academy that represents it—has dragged their feet in a way that suggests they’ve never heard of Napster. And worse, it suggests they’ve forgotten their own goddamn history. Film has survived a major technological shift before. It can survive this one, too, but it takes dealing frankly with the changes, not trying to legislate against them through the Academy.
Unless we wake up tomorrow and distributors and theater owners have come to some magical agreement wherein ticket prices plunge to $5, home viewing is the future of cinema. There will always be a place for theatrical viewing, but it won’t be the main way we watch movies because people literally cannot afford it. It’s not Netflix, it’s not Rotten Tomatoes, it’s the f*cking ticket prices driving down attendance. (Programs like Moviepass barely make a dent in the problem.) And because of that, the risk of theatrical distribution has grown so great that a wonderful film like Columbus can barely make it into theaters. So fight Netflix. Ban them from your film festivals, exclude them from your award shows. But do it at the price of your own relevance.