The Netflix/Oscars Controversy: Cinema Purism Gone Too Far?

Netflix took the world by storm back in 2012 as a revolutionary way to access original film and television from the comfort of your home. Originally acting solely as a provider for already-established series and films, Netflix now offers a platform for a wealth of new film-makers and fresh talent to showcase their talents and create new content. It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to say that the streaming service has revolutionised the way we consume media, and has made an impossibly competitive industry that much more accessible. While it has its pros and cons, and some of the content that it relentlessly churns out is far less than award-worthy (the travesty that was The Princess Switch must never be discussed again), it is also home to iconic and groundbreaking originals such as Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things and, most recently, Academy award-winning film Roma.

However, the controversy following the 2019 Oscars awards ceremony has shown that this brave new world of readily accessible (and binge-able) content is not everybody’s cup of tea. Celebrated director Steven Spielberg, a member of the academy, stated that “the greatest contributions we can make as filmmakers is to give audiences the motion picture theatrical experience.” While this enchanting idea of the ‘motion picture theatrical experience’ that Spielberg presents is very romantic, it is also blissfully ignorant of how exclusionary this ‘magical’ space can be to members of the general public. This comment and its blatant derision of Netflix and other similar streaming services speaks to the privilege of one who has never had to struggle to get out of bed- let alone into the cinema. Similarly, Netflix offers a financially viable option for those who cannot afford to visit the cinema regularly to see new releases, when a monthly subscription to the streaming service will typically cost you the same amount as one trip to the movie theatre.

More than this, Netflix is a global phenomenon that distributes its content worldwide. As director Ava DuVernay pointed out, the importance of distributing diverse content on an international level cannot be discredited. She tweets: ‘One of the things I value about Netflix is that it distributes black work far/wide… […] I’ve had just one film distributed wide internationally. Not SELMA. Not WRINKLE. It was 13TH. By Netflix. That matters.’ Equally, Roma, the film that sparked the debate in the first place, is the first Mexican film ever to win the Academy award for ‘Best Film in a Foreign Language’, and is tied with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) for the most Oscar nominations ever received by a film not in the English language. It has also been lauded as a crucial piece in challenging stereotypical representations of indigenous peoples who are so often exoticised or othered.

The preservation of the long-established cinema culture is undeniably important, and the desire to safeguard it is understandable. But even more important in this day and age is the need to diversify the arts and make media accessible for everyone, and this is exactly what Netflix champions. There is room at the top for everyone, and puritanical stances that dismiss the efforts and talents of a platform purely for its medium should be disregarded for what they are; ignorant and outdated.

Katherine Keir

Image Courtesy of Netflix