Roma’s Alfonso Cuarón has defended Netflix amid its Oscar backlash. The five-time Oscar-winning filmmaker has made a career out of breaking rules and exceeding expectations, ever since his breakthrough 2001 film Y Tu Mamá También found critical acclaim. From that point onward, Cuarón’s success has continued, with familiar hits like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Gravity and most recently Roma, securing his place as a world-renowned filmmaker.
In the lead up to this year’s Oscars, however, it was Roma’s treatment by distributor Netflix that caught a lot of people’s attention. The streaming giant spent a record $30 million to promote the two and a half hour, Spanish language drama about the complexities of class in a middle class Mexico City neighborhood during the 1970s. The huge expenditure raised the ire of many, including Steven Spielberg, who concluded that going to such extremes to promote a film that was mainly released on a streaming platform could help hasten the death of cinemas and that films released on platforms such as Netflix should not be eligible for Oscar consideration.
Unsurprisingly, the debate which Spielberg and others helped to foster gained considerable momentum in the wake of Roma’s three Oscar run at this year’s Academy Awards. Now, for the first time since that debate began, Cuarón has given his opinion to Variety about the backlash. Insisting he loves the theatrical experience, Cuarón also maintains that there has to be a diversity of mediums in which people can experience cinema:
"There needs to be greater diversity in how we release our films. Distribution models need to be more flexible, depending on the film. You cannot impose the release strategy of a tentpole film on a smaller film. You may need fewer theaters and longer runs or models in which the so-called window is shorter. We’re thinking in one single paradigm. It’s a moment to start opening up paradigms. Right now it’s a confrontation between economic models. It’s not like one model benefits cinema, and the other does not."
It’s astounding to consider that Netflix spent twice what it cost to make Roma on its promotional campaign. And, because of the apparent success of these efforts, the fear in Hollywood for many is that big-budgeted films will now be more inclined to allow services like Netflix or Hulu to handle distribution, as these streaming platforms have the money to wage huge promotional campaigns. The end result then could possibly be the death of cinemas. It is another example of the nervousness imposed on sectors of the entertainment industry since the growing prominence of streaming services began. A similar debate was waged during the Cannes film festival last year after the prestigious festival banned films that hadn’t been released theatrically from competing for its top prize, the Palme d’Or.
As the debate continues to evolve on the role of streaming services in the distribution and promotion of cinema, Cuarón’s point about needing to diversify the release of films is a very important and valid one. Cinema has and always will go beyond billion dollar-grossing, CG blockbusters. If the multiplexes can’t (or won’t) offer audiences something more than the same handful of films rebooted, retold, and rehashed over and over again, then those who want something more from their entertainment will look elsewhere. This means that if films like Roma are only going to be given a chance on platforms like Netflix or Hulu, then box office tallies will reflect that.