That Moment When You Disagree With Your Hero
by Mandi Harrison
The very first memory I have is of watching E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. I remember being in the dark, I remember Drew Barrymore’s pigtails, Reese’s Pieces, E.T. hiding amongst the stuffed animals. I especially remember feeling very sad and anxious when Elliott and E.T. were sick, gasping for air in the isolation tents. I remember the thrill of the kids racing E.T. to the mountain, in order for him to return to his ship before the government officials took him away. I remember the farewell between Elliot and E.T. I was not quite 3 years old, and I remember all these details vividly.
To say Steven Spielberg helped shape how I love movies and how I want to view the world would be an understatement. His movies and influence on movies has shaped filmmakers and the way stories have been portrayed on screen since he first started making movies. The thrill I get in my tummy when I’m about to watch a movie started because of Steven. E.T., Indiana Jones, Hook, Jurassic Park- these movies fueled my imagination and made me believe in magic. Schindler’s List & Saving Private Ryan opened my eyes and gave me new perspectives on historical events that I thought I knew about. You could see his touch in even the movies he produced, like Back To The Future, An American Tail, and Men In Black. Even with expanding my viewing palate, these movies still hold a special place in my heart. I can now see the genius and effort behind the magic I loved. Watching Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind for the first time as an adult, I got the same thrill as I did from watching Raiders of The Lost Ark as a child.
Steven Spielberg is someone who loves movies, can create stories and worlds and still truly understand the business of film making. That’s why I was extremely disappointed when reading headlines stating that Steven was going to ask the board of Governors for The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the ones who decide on how the Oscars should be ran, to change the rules of eligibility for The Academy Awards. The current rules state that a film must be more than 40 minutes long, have its public premiere in a public theater during the appropriate calendar year and must have played in a Los Angeles theater, with paid admission for at least seven consecutive days in the appropriate calendar year. That’s why there’s so many movies that open on Christmas Day, only in New York and Los Angeles and then have a wide release in January- they are trying to make the window of eligibility for Oscar nominations.
Steven Spielberg is going before the board of governors to ask that the rules be changed to a full four week release in order to be considered eligible. He has made no secret of his distaste for movies released on streaming services (i.e. Netflix) being able to be eligible for the Oscars by releasing for 2 weeks in theaters before they are released on the Netflix platform; the general rule of thumb is that there has to be a 90 day window between the end of showing in a theater and streaming release. He has said that the movies released on streaming platforms are little more than television movies, and that the greatest contributions filmmakers can make “is to provide the audience with a theatrical experience.”
My initial reaction was to roll my eyes. It just sounded petty. Roma was a huge contender at this year’s Academy Awards- as it should be. What does it matter how long it played at a theater? And then I let the words and their meaning marinate in my head and it made me angry. And when I say angry, I mean riled up. As much as I have loved his work, I think- no, I know Steven Spielberg is wrong in this matter. At the very least, he’s misguided.
The greatest contribution a filmmaker can make is to provide the audience with an experience that either reflects the audience’s perspective or opens their eyes to other experiences. It doesn’t matter what format this experience takes place in. A filmmaker’s goal is to get their movie in front of people and at one point, having your movie play in a theater was the ultimate goal. Now with smartphones and DSLRs, anyone can make a movie. Everyone has a story to tell and now they can. With movie making so easily accessible, traditional theater distribution is harder and harder to come by, unless a major (or mini-major) studio is behind the distribution. Even for established filmmakers, theatrical release isn’t always a given. Video on Demand and straight to DVD were once considered to be a kiss of death, but with Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, and many other streaming services, there are so many avenues now for filmmakers to get their projects in front of an audience. With more content than ever and more ways then ever to view, the audience is the real winner. There is always something to watch. And as a filmmaker, you want people to watch your movie.
There’s not just the the convenience; there’s the variety of the material. Of the top 100 films of 2018, 96.4% of the 112 directors were men, with over 80% of that number white men. A lack of diverse filmmakers leads to a lack of films that represent how the world truly is. Movie studios have been trying to make more of an effort in recent years, distributing movies that are made by and for diverse audiences; however they still treat the successes of these films as an anomaly, instead of what they are: proof that the audience is there for movies that represent the world. Movies like Black Panther, A Wrinkle In Time, and Crazy Rich Asians all showed that people want to watch and will watch movies like this. Movies that are distributed via streaming services are more likely to feature diverse directors, actors and topics. People laugh about the genres on Netflix, but there really is something for just about anyone.
Netflix has changed the way television shows are watched, as well as the quality of the programming, just as HBO and FX did before it. It’s only natural that the way films are seen and received change as well. Change is a part of life, and just because something has worked in the past, doesn’t mean it should continue that way. The world has changed, the audiences have changed and Hollywood needs to continue to move along with the times. The movies that Netflix have been distributing are becoming more high caliber and offer representation to audiences. The Documentaries that Netflix has distributed have been nominated for awards since 2014, but in 2018, Mudbound became their first feature to receive nominations. Mudbound received 4 nominations, including the first ever nominated female cinematographer, Rachel Morrison. This past year, Netflix received 15 nominations, and won 4 awards, including Best Director for Alfonso Cuarón. Roma was, in my opinion, the true Best Picture of the year. Private Life should’ve been nominated for at least Best Original Screenplay and Best Actress for Kathryn Hahn, if not Best Picture and Best Director for Tamara Jenkins. In 2018, The Meyerowitz Stories (New & Selected) should have been nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Supporting Actor for Adam Sandler (yes, that Adam Sandler). These movies have honest depictions of beautify flawed people, stories that are rarely shown.
Netflix has responded, or rather subtweeted the following:
I completely agree. Movies should not be a part of the class system. Movies are not only entertainment, they are a part of our history and everyone should have access to that. Netflix makes it easier for families and people who don’t live in peak areas to watch movies. Netflix is affordable and provides unlimited access to movies and programs. In fact, my only bone to pick with Netflix is that there should be more classic films available to stream, especially since FIlmStruck is no more. (But that’s another conversation)
Spielberg himself predicted the current influx of streaming. In 2013, he and George Lucas spoke at the opening of the Interactive Media Building at the University of Southern California. Steven said that there would come a time when $250 million dollar movies would flop and it would change the industry forever. He said that Lincoln came close to being picked up by HBO, and that it was only because he co-owned his own studio that it eventually got theatrical distribution. He went on to praise Netflix, with Lucas cautioning against ignoring niche audiences in favor of the masses. The men that invented the blockbuster knew that wide releases were bound to dwindle down. Now it appears that Spielberg has changed his thinking and is seeking to change the industry’s thinking as well.
I do understand where he’s coming from. There is something magical about watching a great movie in a theater with a great audience. It’s a unifying experience. But sometimes that it not always an option. Finances, health issues, child care, jobs and a lack of theaters are just some of the issues that can prevent people from watching movies and streaming services and digital downloads allow people who normally aren’t able to come to the theater to watch.
I will always credit my love of the magic of movies to Steven Spielberg, and I will always respect what he has done for film making and film preservation and history. I have learned so much about the type of films I want to make from watching his. However, I think he is mistaken on this point. It’s not watching in the theater that makes the experience special- it’s the way the movie makes you feel or think. By only nominating films that have been released in a theater for at least for weeks, the pool of movies that would be eligible would be considerably smaller and there would be less diversity in the filmmakers and less representation onscreen, and fewer people would actually watch movies, regardless of how it was released. There would be no winner in that circumstance.