The People vs. Netflix

It really hurts not to agree with Spielberg in his crusade against Netflix at the Oscars but this “battle” is simply pointless. Just like the one regarding film festivals with Venice in first line and magisterially handled by festival director Alberto Barbera.

Roma – as many other so called “originals” – was not directly financed by Netflix but instead by Participant Media and Esperanto Filmoj (Alfonso Cuaron’s own production company) for a total budget of $15 million and then picked up for a considerably higher price tag and distributed by the Los Gatos company, theatrically first and then SVOD. The number of screens an indie film plays on is, on average, lower than this specific case. While Netflix has not publicly disclosed box-office figures for Roma, sources deduced that the film made $90,000–120,000 from three theaters in its opening weekend, 23–25 November, and a total of $200,000 over the five-day Thanksgiving frame, including selling out theaters in Los Angeles and New York City. Had the results been officially reported, its approximate venue average of $66,600 would have ranked among the best ever for a foreign-language film. In its second weekend of theatrical release in the United States, the film expanded to 17 theaters. In its third weekend, the film made another estimated $500,000 from 100 theaters, for a running total of $900,000. Despite being released on Netflix on Friday, 14 December, the film expanded to 147 theaters and grossed an estimated $362,000, for a four-week total of $1.4 million. It made another $300,000 the following week and $150,000 the week after that. By its ninth week of release, the film had made an estimated $2.8 million. In the weekend following the announcement of its 10 Oscar nominations, Roma grossed another $175,000 from around 80 theaters, pushing it past $3 million, the first foreign language film to do so domestically since Ida in 2013. In total, the drama was theatrically released in over 20 territories globally with 70mm presentations also being planned during its theatrical release.

Data show clearly and extensively that this process is not hurting the theatrical experience while it is instead lowering the risk and allowing beautiful but “difficult” films to recoup quickly – the obsession has to stop. SVOD subscribers are actually more likely to be moviegoers. Netflix spent an estimated $50 million for their Awards campaign but since Venice everyone knew this movie was going to be at least nominated. It would have won Best Picture if there was a way to opt out of the foreign language category.

Regarding this last point, shall the The Academy change the rules making room for other movies when a foreign language film is nominated for Best Picture? Cold War in this year’s case, which dominated at the European Film Awards. This would also allow a foreign language film to compete effectively for Best Picture.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has given Academy Awards to foreign language films since 1945 and has invited the film industries of various countries to submit their best film for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film since 1956.

The Academy defines a foreign language film as a feature-length motion picture produced outside the United States that contains primarily non-English dialogue.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Roma received ten Academy Award nominations, the highest number of nominations ever garnered for a foreign language film. The foreign language films with the most awards are Sweden’s Fanny and Alexander and Taiwan’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with both winning four awards, including the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

No foreign language film has been a recipient of an Academy Award for Best Picture, although ten foreign language films have been nominees for the award:

Grand Illusion (France) 1938
Z (France/Algeria) 1969
The Emigrants (Sweden) 1972
Cries and Whispers (Sweden) 1973
The Postman (Italy) 1995
Life Is Beautiful (Italy) 1998
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Taiwan) 2000
Letters from Iwo Jima (US) 2006
Amour (France/Germany/Austria) 2012
Roma (Mexico) 2019

Now let’s all wait for next crusade when Scorsese’s The Irishman will be released next autumn.

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