A movie on a movie screen is an Oscar movie. A movie on a TV screen is an Emmy movie. Why is this so hard to understand, let alone accept?
Much of Film Twitter and nerdom is up in arms over Spielberg’s “controversial” statement that movies which play in theaters should be up for Oscars while movies that play on TV should be up for Emmys. The hate being thrown his way (start on Reddit, or Twitter, or this Collider video, and go from there) is that he’s old school and elitist, that he’s dissing and dismissing the quality of good movies on Netflix (like Mudbound) and other TV outlets, etc.
Except that he’s not.
People are literally putting words in his mouth.
On the contrary, in the interview above, in which Spielberg defines Netflix as TV (the gall!) he also praises the current state of television movies, saying they’ve never been better:
- “Television is greater today than it’s ever been in the history of television. There’s better writing, better directing, better performances, better stories are being told. Television is really thriving with quality and art.”
He even goes on to chastise studios for not releasing these kinds of movies theatrically because of their obsession with franchises and tentpoles.
Critics of Spielberg’s comments rail that this is all very easy for him to say because it’s easy for him to get theatrical distribution. Comments like that are ignorant. Spielberg got his start in TV. He cut his teeth directing TV movies and series. That’s where he honed his craft and proved himself. (J.J. Abrams did the same.)
Spielberg couldn’t be more pro cinema, pro art, and pro television. When it comes to awards, however, he’s simply acknowledging what should be plainly obvious.
Why isn’t it, and why is this important?
To the first question: Netflix has completely – and solely – muddled the conversation. They’re the only TV outlet clamoring for Oscar recognition. Amazon, HBO, Showtime, and many other TV/Streaming outlets haven’t made a fuss. If they want Oscar-eligibility, they give their content proper theatrical distribution before debuting them on their TV platforms (like Amazon has). No outlet other than Netflix is demanding to be eligible for an award from the very industry they’re competing against.
Which leads us to the second point: why is this important? Because the theatrical experience continues to be threatened and marginalized. As Spielberg says:
- “…it poses a clear and present danger to filmgoers.”
Why, and how? If the primary financing model for movies is driven by Netflix and VOD, and that gets awarded with Oscars, then less and less financiers and distributors will fight for theatrical release. The problem of tentpole-dominated multiplexes then snowballs. By giving TV movies Oscars, the Academy would literally be incentiviszing TV distribution.
Many are fighting to preserve the theatrical experience. The Oscars should be a part of that fight. If the Academy marginalizes theater attendance, it’s betraying the very industry and art form it has celebrated for nearly a century.
The discussion here shouldn’t be the one we’re currently having, which is borderline petulant. The discussion should be elevating the worth of the Emmy award. Indeed, Spielberg’s not the one diminishing its merit. He’s elevating it by way of praising current TV content, art, and risk-taking.
Those who say Netflix films should be Oscar-eligible — even as that streaming platform is completely undermining the theatrical experience — they’re the ones dissing the Emmys and television, not Spielberg.
The only reason we’re having this “debate” is because Netflix is whining. HBO isn’t, and hasn’t. Amazon commits to proper theatrical windows before streaming. Nobody else in the industry is complaining, but Netflix feels entitled so we’re having this ridiculous discussion and Spielberg is catching shade for affirming things that are self-evident.
(For more perspective, you can read my essay Netflix & Kill.)