Opinion || Netflix walking the red carpet at Oscars

Yalitza Aparicio in a scene from the film 'Roma,' by filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron. The film is nominated for an Oscar for best picture and best foreign film.
Yalitza Aparicio in a scene from the film 'Roma,' by filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron. The film is nominated for an Oscar for best picture and best foreign film.

After much weeping and gnashing of Hollywood teeth, the 91st Academy Awards and the televised ceremony that brings it to a global audience, seem to be under control.

Controversies have raged over the both the awards to be handed out and the format of the ceremony, which will now proceed without a host for the first time in 30 years.

Only a week ago, the Academy was forced to backflip on its proposal to hand out some awards during commercial breaks after prominent members took to the Twittersphere in outrage. A blunt Russell Crowe called it “a fundamentally stupid decision.”

But these shenanigans are merely the sideshow to much deeper changes at work, and 2019 will be a watershed for the Academy and its role in sanctifying movies, stars and filmmakers.

It hasn’t always been an easy journey for Netflix, and the company has had to make some spectacular behavioural changes.

Whilst it’s not gone unnoticed that streaming services Netflix and Amazon have finally received award nominations in major categories, it’s Netflix’s complete transformation from technology company to movie studio that marks the change of landscape. On 22nd January, Netflix was accepted as the seventh member of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the industry group founded in 1922 and made up of the major movie studios.  

It hasn’t always been an easy journey for Netflix, and the company has had to make some spectacular behavioural changes. It has quit the Internet Association, leaving behind old pals Google, Ebay, and Amazon, along with their neutral approach to piracy.

It now supports filmmakers who want to screen their films at festivals and has softened its stance on the industry’s “release window” that gives cinemas exclusive rights over movies before they appear on other platforms.

It is also now revealing audience data. Notoriously secretive, Netflix has realised that sharing information about the scale of its business can only bolster its status as a major industry player. Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos commented in the latest investor video that when 80 million households watch a Netflix film like Birdbox “culturally, it means the same thing as 80 million people buying a movie ticket.”

It’s industry consecration that Netflix is chasing at next week’s Academy Award ceremony. Having carefully navigated the rules that disqualify films made for streaming, Netflix’s Roma has been nominated for 10 Academy Awards.

The chances of it winning has been helped by a multi-million-dollar publicity campaign and by changes in the membership of the Academy that saw 928 younger, more diverse voters join from across the globe.

As a female-led, non-English language film shot in Mexico, a bag of Oscars for Roma will suit the Academy. But It will also herald a remarkable transformation for Netflix from mail-order company to global entertainment giant.

Dr Simon Weaving is a lecturer in film at the University of Newcastle.