An unlikely heavy hitter has waded into the developing Oscars versus Netflix stoush: the US Department of Justice.
According to Variety, which broke the intriguing story, the federal authority has warned the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences that its proposed new eligibility rules could be against the law.
The Academy is due to vote later this month on rule changes designed to make it difficult for streaming services to qualify for the Oscars.
They could shut out Netflix, whose Alfonso Cuaron-directed hit Roma was its first best picture contender this year, from future consideration.
In a March 21 letter to Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, the government department’s antitrust division sent a warning shot across the bows of the powerful film industry body.
The division’s assistant attorney-general Makan Delrahin wrote that, should the Academy establish Oscars eligibility requirements that cut out competition “without pro-competitive justification”, such conduct “may raise antitrust concerns”.
The DOJ letter added agreements among competitors “to exclude new competitors” that diminish the excluded films’ sales could “violate” a section of law.
Boiled down to non-legalese: banning Netflix movies could be illegal.
An Academy spokesperson confirmed to Variety that it had received the memo and “have responded accordingly”, it was reported.
“The Academy’s Board of Governors will meet on April 23 for its annual awards rules meeting, where all branches submit possible updates for consideration,” said the spokesperson.
Fittingly in an industry that thrives on ensemble casts, the DOJ isn’t the only power player that the Oscars vs Netflix arm wrestle has brought to the ring.
The department’s letter was reportedly prompted by news reports that Academy board member Steven Spielberg is putting his considerable influence behind the push to stop Netflix from cleaning up at future awards shows.
The Schindler’s List director believes any companies that release their movies on streaming platforms at the same time they’re screening in theatres should be banned from Oscars consideration.
Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and other streaming service providers have a swag of Oscars and Emmys to their credit. Netflix, in particular, has regularly done only limited theatrical runs for its films to meet award eligibility requirements.
The Cannes Film Festival forced Netflix to pull out last year over requirements that participating films have local French theatrical releases of a certain length.
“Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” Spielberg told ITV.
“You, certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar.
“I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”
Netflix tweeted in response to Spielberg’s comments and reports others will push the Academy to back eligibility requirements.
“We love cinema,” the company said in its statement on March 4.
“We also love … access for people who can’t always afford, or live in tows without, theatres.”
We love cinema. Here are some things we also love:
-Access for people who can't always afford, or live in towns without, theaters
-Letting everyone, everywhere enjoy releases at the same time
-Giving filmmakers more ways to share art
These things are not mutually exclusive.
— Netflix Film (@NetflixFilm) March 4, 2019
Spielberg’s views are out of synch with other filmmakers and industry workers, who see Netflix as an energising force in movie-making at a time when major studios are focused on comic book franchises.
“As much as I respect Steven and revere him as a filmmaker, he’s not reading the tea leaves,” Academy member and publicist Stu Zakim told Variety.
“That ship has sailed.”