The resistance against Netflix and award validation has taken a new twist. As reported by THR, the streaming giant has been banned from competing in the Cannes Film Festival and thus banned from winning its coveted award, the Palme d’Or. The head of Cannes, Thierry Fremaux, explained that this is because Netflix refuses to release their films in theaters and instead does so on their streaming platform. A new rule has been put in place for this year’s Cannes Film Festival in which films squaring off for the Palme d’Or must have a French theatrical release. This doesn’t prevent Netflix from showing films at Cannes, it just removes them from the competition.
Way back in the ’80s, snowboarding started to spread throughout the country as riders with one plank of wood beneath them barrelled their way down a snowy slope, much to the chagrin of skiers everywhere. Rants with raised fists cascaded at those attempting to progress the sport because all change is bad and nothing good comes from it. It seems silly, given what we know now, but it truly was a point of contention to those of the old standard.
While comparing a streaming company to a sport’s progression may not be 1:1, they share some similarities. Netflix is taking something that’s been around for forever and changing the way people enjoy it. Granted, there’s still nothing quite like a giant movie screen with thundering surround sound, but there’s also something great about being able to watch a quality movie without having to put on pants. Add in a 4k TV and soundbar, and the choice to stay or go becomes less debatable.
Netflix has largely refrained from caving to the theatrical release demands of award vendors, and films they do make available in theaters are often on the same day they’re available on Netflix for streaming. Straying from the old style has caused frustration with theater owners and management as it takes away from the theater-first exclusivity. Even Steven Spielberg was recently quoted as saying original films by streaming companies should not be considered during awards season.
Spielberg, as his quote states, maintains that if a movie is done through a Television format it becomes a TV movie and therefore should not be considered for anything outside of the small screen awards arena. Apparently, in Spielberg’s eyes, a movie isn’t a movie unless it’s in the theaters. This Luddism mentality is equivalent to snowboarding’s strong opposition in its early stages, and now Shaun White and Chloe Kim are walking around with gold medals. Isn’t a movie a movie, regardless of whether it’s watched on a couch or a theater?
Spielberg and those of his ilk are entitled to their opinions of course, but Netflix is standing strong. At last count, they’re closing in on 120 million subscribers and adding more and more names to their payroll, including Martin Scorsese with his upcoming film The Irishman. It’ll be interesting to see if the film can gain notoriety like Beasts of No Nation or Mudbound when it comes to the Academy Awards.
The line in the sand being drawn is temporary. Fremaux and the folks at Cannes are taking a stance against Netflix’s theatrical release policies, while the other side is an evolution in the movie watching experience that’s unlikely to kowtow to the their demands. Netflix is going to keep pumping out quality films, and the more they grow the more attractive they’ll continue to be for top-tier directors, writers, and actors. And like snowboarding, Netflix is making a progression that isn’t going away anytime soon.