Steven Spielberg has clarified his position on Netflix movies qualifying for Oscars. In the 22 years since Netflix was founded in 1997, the company has evolved from a DVD/Blu-ray rental service to arguably the most successful subscription-based streaming service worldwide. They've also expanded their content library by leaps and bounds over the past few years and even begun producing original material of their own, ranging from TV series like Stranger Things to Oscar-winning films like Roma.
At the same time, Netflix has become known for acquiring features that've struggled to find a distributor (like Brie Larson's Unicorn Store) and making them available for streaming online, while simultaneously releasing them in a handful of theaters. Naturally, this has contributed to tensions between the company and exhibitors, many of which refuse to screen Netflix movies at all. Things came to a head in recent months when, shortly after Roma took home three big prizes at February's Academy Awards ceremony, word got out that Spielberg was leading a campaign that would make it more difficult for Netflix Originals to qualify for Oscars in the first place.
As you can imagine, this prompted a response from not only Netflix, but also Roma writer-director Alfonso Cuarón, and others across the film industry. Many journalists were also quick to point out that Spielberg's campaign would only hurt the smaller films that are already struggling to find distribution as is. However, in an email to the NYT, Spielberg clarified his position on the issue, making it clear that his top concern is keeping the movie theater tradition alive:
“I want people to find their entertainment in any form or fashion that suits them. Big screen, small screen - what really matters to me is a great story and everyone should have access to great stories. However, I feel people need to have the opportunity to leave the safe and familiar of their lives and go to a place where they can sit in the company of others and have a shared experience - cry together, laugh together, be afraid together - so that when it’s over they might feel a little less like strangers. I want to see the survival of movie theaters. I want the theatrical experience to remain relevant in our culture.”
Following its annual April meeting, the Academy has decided not to change the Oscar eligibility rules that allows Netflix movies to compete for Academy Awards. It was previously reported that Spielberg had planned to attend the meeting and spearhead the case against Netflix films, but that didn't actually happen. According to one of the NYT's sources, the filmmaker was busy working on his remake of West Side Story in New York at the time, and it's not even clear if he intended to make it to the meeting to begin with. The outlet's sources are further reporting that Spielberg's concerns have less to do with Netflix and more to do with the exhibitors that refuse to screen the company's movies. Apparently, both AMC and Regal Theaters passed on showing Roma in theaters even though Spielberg asked them to do so.
While Spielberg has said in the past that he felt Netflix films were "TV movies" and shouldn't qualify for Oscars consideration, it's certainly possible he's amended his views on the subject since then. The filmmaker has long been famous for defending the cinematic experience and even resisted having E.T. released on VHS back in the 1980s, out of fear that the home video market would negatively impact movie theatergoing in general. That's to say, he's always been wary of people having new ways to watch movies at home, out of concern that it will eventually result in them no longer being able to see films on the big screen. For the time being, however, it appears that his friend Jeffrey Katzenberg was correct about Spielberg wanting to find ways to work with Netflix, not against them.