Awards analysis is provided by Sean from @MathTeacherMovies.
There is nothing better than a movie theater. The chance for the art of cinema to transport you into another world will never stop bringing wonder to audiences young and old. Yet streaming services are trying to take that away from you and we must stop this at all costs….is something that the older members of the Academy would probably say. While theaters are my favorite place to be and the best way to watch a film, there is no denying the success and convenience of streaming services.
For the second year in a row, the Academy announced that they will continue to allow movies released via streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon to qualify for Academy Awards.
There are many theories and reactions to this news, but this announcement changes nothing about how the Academy feels towards films debuting on streaming services. This has nothing to say about the business of movie theaters and how they will suffer and/or prosper after this difficult time in the entertainment industry. This is more about the Academy’s relationship with both the theaters and streaming services and how this will probably not affect future awards at the Oscars.
When movies started to be shown exclusively on streamers, specifically Netflix, they were seen as a joke and never posed a real threat to other contenders in the Oscars race. Then, films released on Netflix started to improve in quality with accomplished actors and experienced directors signing on. But, they still did not qualify for Academy Award nominations because of a rule that stated a movie should be shown in theaters for a certain amount of time for consideration. To overcome this, Netflix obliged and its movies went to the theaters as it premiered to our living rooms. This is when Netflix films started to officially get some Oscar nominations… but then 2018 came along.
2018 was a strange year for the Oscars with many different front runners throughout the season. One of the most frequent and prominent front runners was Roma which was a tremendous cinematic achievement…coming from Netflix. This really did have the highest chance to win, but an older chapter of the Academy had a theater bias. Although Roma met the in-theater requirements and was nominated for several above the line awards including Best Picture and won Best Director, the final top award that night went to Green Book, which was not nearly as quality of a movie as Roma but was much more popular in theaters. This was due to a large group of older Academy members pushing purely in-theater movies instead of a movie released on Netflix. This wasn’t about Roma and wasn’t about Green Book, but about streaming vs theaters and the fact that no matter how heartfelt and well stylized a movie is, if it wasn’t in theaters, much of the Academy will not pay it heed.
The next year, Netflix came back with a vengeance in 2019 with above the line nominations in Marriage Story, The Two Popes, and The Irishman. While they were never considered the front runner for Best Picture, they were very popular with audiences and garnered lots of buzz. These films were rightfully overshadowed by the unstoppable hit of Parasite. The Irishman was notably shut out with eleven losses.
While streaming services hadn’t quite declared a victory over theaters, it was starting to become apparent that streaming was catching up with the theaters. Then the pandemic gave streaming a tremendous advantage. Theaters closed and streaming became the only way to see a movie. Movies were either pushed back a year or debuted on various streaming services. Because of this, the Academy was practically forced to allow all movies that debuted on streaming services and weren’t shown in theaters to qualify for Oscars.
This was Netflix’s chance to finally win the big awards and it had two front runners in Mank and The Trial of the Chicago 7! There were also performance wins expected for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. However, with the exception of a few technicals, most of these films were not given any awards of impact. These awards fell to Nomadland, The Father, Promising Young Woman and Minari which are movies that eventually ended up on streaming or VOD services but still spent time in theaters first, making the argument that the Academy will still be drawn to films from the theater.
This brings us to the Academy’s recent announcement: even with the pandemic waning, the Academy upheld the same rule from last year, so Netflix and other streamers have another shot of qualifying for the Oscars without being in the theaters. In my mind, nothing will change. Regardless of the quality, there seems to be a contingent of the Academy that is biased toward the theater and against Netflix and Amazon.
This is not an article about streamers vs theaters, because if I am placed at that fork in the road I will find myself at the theaters every day. But even though the Academy is adjusting its rules to embrace streaming, it seems to be ignoring that outlet of art that is changing the game and possibly garnering more popularity and improving in quality.