Ant-Man star Michael Douglas claims Steven Spielberg blocked him from winning Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance in the HBO-produced Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra. With the rise of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, alongside the ongoing success of subscription cable outlets like HBO, a debate has broken out over where the line should be drawn between television and feature film when it comes to handing out awards.
Legendary director Steven Spielberg lent his considerable voice to this heated argument, and indeed fanned the flames considerably, back in early 2018 when he proclaimed that Netflix movies don’t deserve Oscars, even if they receive a limited theatrical release to qualify for Academy Award consideration. “Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” Spielberg said, arguing that “token” theatrical releases should not count toward qualifying for Oscars. The Cannes Film Festival too has taken a hard line against Netflix, banning the streamer’s films from competing for its various awards.
In a new interview, Douglas offers what he claims is a glimpse of just how much certain forces in the movie business are against outlets like Netflix and HBO competing for major movie awards. Speaking to Variety as part of their Actors On Actors series, Douglas told fellow thespian Benicio Del Toro what happened to him when he was up for Best Actor at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival for his film Behind the Candelabra. The movie, an HBO-produced biopic of the famous musician Liberace, received theatrical release overseas and was shown in competition at Cannes, but this didn’t matter to one major power player according to Douglas (the full video can also be seen below):
I don’t want to say nothing, but Steven Spielberg was [jury] president of the Cannes Film Festival the year I was there in Cannes and the word was, and the rumor was, I was sort of favored for the Best Actor award, that he put the kibosh on that because it was an HBO film for television. Even though it had played theatrically.
Michael Douglas reveals how Steven Spielberg “put the kibosh” on his favored #CannesFilmFestival best actor award because “Behind The Candelabra” was an HBO film, a film for television https://t.co/GVDhrBiqIP pic.twitter.com/7hZX370Sdb— Variety (@Variety) June 6, 2019
Though Douglas was allegedly blocked from winning Best Actor at Cannes, Behind the Candelabra would ultimately pick up plenty of hardware. Douglas himself would grab a Best Actor award from the Golden Globes - in the television category - as well as an Emmy for Best Actor.
Douglas’ story of being blocked may or may not be true - even he admits it was a “rumor” that he was up for the Best Actor award to begin with - but there’s no question that filmmakers like Spielberg have a major problem with outlets like Netflix and HBO competing for awards that are traditionally reserved for theatrical films. Many no doubt agree with Spielberg that a solid line must be drawn between television and film, but others will argue that with the proliferation of TV and streaming outlets, and the increasing lack of movie studio interest in making smaller budget films that might compete for awards, the time has come to put aside such outdated categories and embrace the new, diverse reality. Either way, Netflix has arrived as a major awards player after the Oscars performance of last year’s Roma, and that’s a reality that old school folks like Spielberg will just have to reckon with.