Spielberg’s spiel against Netflix’s eligibility for Oscars has minority filmmakers bristling

An angle I hadn’t thought of:

When Steven Spielberg speaks about the business of Hollywood, everyone generally listens and few dissent. But reports that he intends to support rule changes that could block Netflix from Oscars-eligibility have provoked a heated, and unwieldy, debate online this weekend. It has found the legendary filmmaker at odds with some industry heavyweights, who have pointed out that Netflix has been an important supporter of minority filmmakers and stories, especially in awards campaigns, while also reigniting the ongoing streaming versus theatrical debate.

Spielberg has weighed in before on whether streaming movies should compete for the film industry’s most prestigious award (TV movies, he said last year, should compete for Emmys), but that was before Netflix nearly succeeded in getting its first best picture Oscar for Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” at last week’s Academy Awards. Netflix, of course, did not win the top award — “Green Book,” which was produced partially by Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, did.

Still, Netflix was a legitimate contender and this year, the streaming service is likely to step up its awards game even more with Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” which The Hollywood Reporter said may also gunning for a wide-theatrical release. A teaser ad aired during the 91st Oscars for the gangster drama said “in theatres next fall,” instead of the “in select theatres” phrasing that was used for “Roma.”

But Netflix also isn’t playing by the same rules as other studios. The company doesn’t report theatrical grosses, for one, and it’s been vexing some more traditional Hollywood executives throughout this award season and there have been whispers in recent weeks that a reckoning is coming.

Now, Spielberg and others are planning to do something about it by supporting a revised film academy regulation at an upcoming meeting of the organization’s board of governors that would disqualify Netflix from the Oscars, or at least how the streaming giant currently operates during awards season.

This year “Roma” got a limited theatrical qualifying run and an expensive campaign with one of the industry’s most successful awards publicists, Lisa Taback, leading the charge. But Netflix, operates somewhat outside of the industry while also infiltrating its most important institutions, like the Oscars and the Motion Picture Association of America. Some like Spielberg, are worried about what that will mean for the future of movies.

“Steven feels strongly about the difference between the streaming and theatrical situation,” an Amblin spokesperson told IndieWire’s Anne Thompson late last week. “He’ll be happy if the others will join (his campaign) when that comes up. He will see what happens.”

An Amblin representative said Sunday there was nothing to add.

But some see Spielberg’s position as wrong-minded, especially when it comes to the Academy Awards, which requires a theatrical run to be eligible for an award. Many online have pointed out the hypocrisy that the organization allows members to watch films on DVD screeners before voting.

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay tweeted at the film academy’s handle in response to the news that the topic would be discussed at a board of governors meeting, which is comprised of only 54 people out of over 8,000 members.

“I hope if this is true, that you’ll have filmmakers in the room or read statements from directors like me who feel differently,” DuVernay wrote.

Some took a more direct approach, questioning whether Spielberg understands how important Netflix has been to minority filmmakers in recent years.

Franklin Leonard, who founded The BlackList, which surveys the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood, noted that Netflix’s first four major Oscar campaigns were all by and about people of colour: “Beasts of No Nation,” “The 13th,” “Mudbound” and “Roma.”

“It’s possible that Steven Spielberg doesn’t know how difficult it is to get movies made in the legacy system as a woman or a person of colour. In his extraordinary career, he hasn’t exactly produced or executive produced many films directed by them,” Leonard tweeted Saturday. “By my count, Spielberg does one roughly every two decades.”

It’s important to note that Netflix didn’t produce “Beasts of No Nation,” “Mudbound” or “Roma,” but rather acquired them for distribution. But if Oscar campaigns are no longer part of the equation in a Netflix-partnership, top-tier filmmakers are likely to take their talents and films elsewhere.

Others, like “First Reformed” filmmaker Paul Schrader, had a slightly different take.

“The notion of squeezing 200+ people into a dark unventilated space to see a flickering image was created by exhibition economics not any notion of the ‘theatrical experience,”‘ Schrader wrote in a Facebook post Saturday. “Netflix allows many financially marginal films to have a platform and that’s a good thing.”

But his Academy Award-nominated film, he thinks, would have gotten lost on Netflix and possibly, “Relegated to film esoterica.” Netflix had the option to purchase the film out of the Toronto International Film Festival and didn’t. A24 did and stuck with the provocative film through awards season.

“Distribution models are in flux,” Schrader concluded. “It’s not as simple as theatrical versus streaming.”

One thing is certain, however: Netflix is not going away any time soon and how it integrates with the traditional structures of Hollywood, like the Oscars, is a story that’s still being written.

Sean Baker, who directed “The Florida Project,” suggested a compromise: That Netflix offered a “theatrical tier” to pricing plans, which would allow members to see its films in theatres for free.

“I know I’d spend an extra 2 dollars a month to see films like ‘Roma’ or ‘Buster Scruggs’ on the big screen,” Baker tweeted. “Just an idea with no details ironed out. But we need to find solutions like this in which everybody bends a bit in order to keep the film community (which includes theatre owners, film festivals and competitive distributors) alive and kicking.”

The Significance of ‘The Salesman’ Director Asghar Farhadi’s Absence From the Oscars – The Atlantic

For those interested in movies and Iran, good long interview with Hamid Naficy of Northwestern University’s School of Communication (I saw The Salesman at TIFF and well-worth seeing even if not quite as good as A Separation): 

While Hollywood has been loudly critical of Donald Trump since the early days of his presidential campaign, that relationship has only grown more adversarial with the former reality-TV star’s assumption of office last month. As my colleague David Sims noted Monday, the current awards season has seen many filmmakers, performers, and others in the industry calling out Trump, whether for his behavior toward women and minorities or for moving ahead with campaign promises to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico or to keep Muslims out of the country for professed national-security reasons.Then, on January 27 came a confusing and messily enacted executive order that, in part, temporarily bars citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. It quickly emerged that the order would likely mean that at least one important face would be missing from this year’s Oscars: the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose film The Salesman is nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film award. A few days later, Farhadi confirmed to The New York Timesthat he wouldn’t be attending:

“I neither had the intention to not attend nor did I want to boycott the event as a show of objection, for I know that many in the American film industry and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are opposed to the fanaticism and extremism which are today taking place more than ever … However, it now seems that the possibility of this presence is being accompanied by ifs and buts which are in no way acceptable to me even if exceptions were to be made for my trip.”

In addition to celebrities condemning the executive order, which also bars refugees, the film industry has expressed its support for Farhadi. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences called the travel ban “extremely troubling,” and on Tuesday, the American Film Institute praised Farhadi’s work while saying, “We believe any form of censorship—including the restriction of travel—to be against all values we cherish as a community of storytellers.” Immediately after the order was announced, one of The Salesman’s stars, Taraneh Alidoosti, said she would be boycotting the ceremony and called Trump’s move “racist.” Others have reportedly also been prevented from attending.

To get a better sense of the cultural and geopolitical context of Farhadi’s recognition by the Oscars and his eventual boycott, I spoke with Hamid Naficy, a professor at Northwestern University’s School of Communication and the author of several books on Iranian culture and media, including A Social History of Iranian Cinema. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Cruz: Can you describe the cultural exchange between the U.S. and Iran in recent years, and how that relationship might change moving forward?

Naficy: …It’s in that context that you have this very complicated diplomatic, media, and cultural dance between Iran and the U.S. As part of this anti-American cultural diplomacy in Iran, American films were banned in the country after the Iranian Revolution, but a whole active underground market developed for them.On the one hand, the government of Iran declares that there is a cultural invasion of Iran—that Americans are trying to win the hearts and minds of Iranians, not through force but through culture. On the other hand, Iranian cinema, in particular arthouse cinema, has after the revolution become quite a credible presence in international film festivals and in commercial cinema. Those films are valued because they’re so artistic and interesting, but also partly because the view they represent of Iran is almost diametrically opposed to the view the Iranian government presents of itself and that the Western media presents of Iran.These films show Iranian people to be normal like everyone else. They love their children, their children fight with each other, they’re jealous, they’re loyal. There are all kinds of humane stories that I think make people sympathetic to Iranian society and culture. So you have these kinds of competing visions of self and other that are taking place in the two film industries.

Hollywood, from the hostage crisis onward, has produced a huge number of films that basically sort of exploit the enmity between the two countries. I guess the last big one was Argo, which was about the rescue mission of the Americans by the Canadian embassy. (Although I must say, the Canadians didn’t get a lot of credit in that film and neither did the Iranians, but that’s Hollywood.)

Memo to the Oscars from the Tonys — this is what diversity looks like

Stark contrast with Hollywood:

This is not to say that Broadway has solved racism. In fact many of this year’s most-lauded actors say there’s more work to be done. Speaking with the Hollywood Reporter, Leslie Odom Jr., who won for his role as Aaron Burr in Hamilton, has said the lack of complex roles for black actors is so acute he plans on focusing on his music career following Hamilton. Looking into 2017, few expect the range of plays and musicals for the year ahead to rival this season. The real question is what comes out of the seeds that Hamilton is sowing — perhaps a new generation of actors and writers inspired to tell their own stories.


The cast of The Colour Purple accepts the award for Best Revival of a Musical onstage. (Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

Meanwhile, when it comes to diversity, the hip-hop history lesson is just the beginning. From Spring Awakening, where actors perform American Sign Language, to the Latin rhythms of the Gloria Estefan-inspired On Your Feet, Broadway is breaking boundaries and wooing new audiences. While Hollywood is busy arguing about who should direct the inevitable Hamilton movie, executives should be taking notes. Instead of playing it safe with familiar faces and bland remakes, shake things up. As Kevin Costner once said: “Build it and they will come.”

Source: Memo to the Oscars from the Tonys — this is what diversity looks like – Arts & Entertainment – CBC News

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Oscar winner, says Canada informs her work

Nice Canadian connection:

Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who won the Academy Award for documentary short, credits her time in Canada for helping inform her powerful storytelling.

“When you live in a country like Canada, you begin to realize how right things can be,” Obaid-Chinoy told CBC inside the Oscars press room after her win. “Then when you travel back to Pakistan and to other countries which are in conflict, you can see what’s going wrong.”

Her winning documentary short, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, is about honour killings, told through the eyes of Saba Qaiser.

“She wanted her story told,” said Obaid-Chinoy. “The impact of her story is tremendous, because it is going to change lives, and it’s going to save lives, and there can be no greater reward than that.”

Qaiser, 18, fell in love with a man against her family’s wishes. Shortly after they eloped, her father and uncle shot her in the head and left her for dead. Her survival led her to become a rare voice for women in similar situations and the one needed for Obaid-Chinoy to tell the story.


Pakistani-Canadian journalist and filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy accepts the award for Best Documentary Short Subject Film for A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness at the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California Feb. 28. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

“I think it’s important to see what what human beings are capable of,” said the filmmaker.

Obaid-Chinoy, who now lives in Pakistan but has spent a lot of time going between Toronto and her home country, said her work has prompted difficult conversations that often risked her life but that there is “payback” in doing so.

The filmmaker and journalist also won an Academy Award for her 2012 documentary Saving Face, about women in Pakistan searching for justice after suffering acid attacks.

That win made her the first Pakistani to capture an Oscar.

“The power of being nominated for an Academy Award really does mean for a country like Pakistan that you can change laws.”

Source: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Oscar winner, says Canada informs her work – Arts & Entertainment – CBC News

How to Fix the Racist Oscars—and Hollywood – The Daily Beast

More on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and detailing the extent of Hollywood’s problems:

It’s not just the Academy that’s lacking diversity, either. Researchers at the University of Southern California analyzed the 700 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2014 and came to some staggering conclusions. They determined that, of the top 100 highest-grossing films of 2014, only 17 of the top movies featured non-white leads or co-leads, and the overall breakdown of actors was: 73.1 percent White, 12.5 percent Black, 5.3 percent Asian, 4.9 percent Hispanic, and 4.2 percent Other.

“I know many members who wouldn’t even see [Straight Outta Compton] because it represented a culture that they detest or, more accurately, they assume they detest,” an Academy member said.

These frustrating numbers inspired “Every Single Word,” an eye-opening Tumblr by Dylan Marron that highlights every single word spoken by a person of color in a mainstream film. Marron’s shocking findings show, among many examples, that in the entire Harry Potter film series, only five minutes and 40 seconds are spoken by characters of color (they total over 20 hours). In The Lord of the Ringstrilogy, it’s 46 seconds (if you count the Orcs). E.T.: nine seconds. Into the Woods: seven seconds. Moonrise Kingdom: 10 seconds. Last year’s Best Picture winner, Birdman: 53 seconds.

Hollywood is also a business, so some of the explanation for the lack of diversity is financial. A decade ago, the U.S. box office comprised 51.3 percent of worldwide gross. Today, it’s less than 40 percent, so over 60 percent of a movie’s overall take is international. But a big problem that the industry doesn’t know how to address is the tastes of international audiences, which are, quite frankly, far more narrow-minded than that of Americans. With the exception of the Fast and the Furiousfranchise, many films with mainly black casts don’t travel too well abroad. Look at Straight Outta Compton, which made just $39 million internationally out of $200 million total, or Creed, which took home $30 million of its $137 million total outside the U.S (the previous entry with a white lead, Rocky Balboa, made $70 million domestic and $85 million abroad). In the Sony hack, a controversial email surfaced from a producer to Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman Michael Lynton decrying the tastes of international movie audiences.

“I believe that the international motion picture audience is racist—in general pictures with an African American lead don’t play well overseas,” the producer wrote in an email pegged to the Denzel Washington-starrer The Equalizer. “But Sony sometimes seems to disregard that a picture must work well internationally to both maximize returns and reduce risk, especially pics with decent size budgets.”

Source: How to Fix the Racist Oscars—and Hollywood – The Daily Beast

The Oscars’ Racist Refusal to Honor Modern Black Heroes – The Daily Beast

The Academy member numbers say it all:

As of 2014, the Academy was 94 percent white, 76 percent male, and an average of 63 years old. Do 63-year-old white men readily identify with a gangsta rap biopic set in the late ‘80s? Do they see it in the same grandiose fashion as they would, say, a film about a ‘50s country star or ill-fated ‘60s rock ‘n’ roller? Do the “fucks” and “niggas” in the soundtrack make it hard for them to view it in the same light as a movie about Steve Jobs or Brian Wilson? Maybe they can only relate to black struggle when it’s couched in a package they find acceptable, like a biopic about a soul singer they grew up listening to or a period piece about an embattled slave fighting for his freedom. Maybe old white men don’t know shit about new, black cinema.

Source: The Oscars’ Racist Refusal to Honor Modern Black Heroes – The Daily Beast