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Harriet Metcalfe examines the news that for the first time stream-exclusive movies can win an Oscar

Harriet Metcalfe
6th May 2020
Image:Wikimediacommons
Yes, you read that right. Because just over a year after Steven Spielberg, a man on the Oscar’s Board of Governors, said streaming companies should be banned from Academy consideration (and then started working with Apple TV) – coronavirus happened. And now it’s looking like the only way a film will be eligible…

Here’s how the very fancy Oscars website put it:

Will the news make Steven Spielberg change his mind? Image:Wikimediacommons

“Current Academy Awards rules require that a film be shown in a commercial motion picture theatre in Los Angeles County for a theatrical qualifying run of at least seven consecutive days, during which period screenings must occur at least three times daily. Until further notice, and for the 93rd Awards year only, films that had a previously planned theatrical release, but are initially made available on a commercial streaming or VOD service may quality in the Best Picture, general entry and speciality categories for the 93rd Academy Awards under these provisions;

  1. The film must be made available on the secure Academy Screening Room member-only streaming site within 60 days of the film’s streaming or VOD release;
  2. The film must meet all other eligibility requirements.”

There’s a couple of other good bits here; they’re expanding the number of “qualifying theatres” beyond LA, so when cinemas can re-open, films with a theatrical release in New York; The Bay Area; Chicago, Illinois; Miami, Florida; and Atlanta, Georgia – will also be eligible. I’m interested to see if this shapes or alters the types of films nominated. It might do nothing at all, but it might be a game-changer – we’ll have to wait and find out.

But we’ve got to applaud them for getting off their high-horse about this for once – this is quite a big deal. I can see these provisions staying in place for a few years perhaps, until things are completely back to normal. But even if I’m wrong, it might be a comfort to know that Dolittle, currently one of the highest grossing films worldwide of 2020, probably won’t end up sweeping awards at the Oscars this year. You might even say that it’ll do… little.

Sorry.

The news comes at an interesting time for Universal Studios – currently in a row with big cinema chain AMC in the U.S., and Odeon over here. That’s 1,000 cinemas in the U.K. alone that won’t be showing major Amblin projects (yep, Steven Spielberg’s company), for example. Yes, they will still be streaming but, as the Academy point out – they have to have had “a previously planned theatrical release”. Bypassing the theatres completely and going straight to streaming isn’t likely to make them eligible.

But this is the bit I’m really interested in;

Whatever the changes, Dolittle, the highest grossing film of the year so far is unlikely to be nominated. Right? Image:IMDB

“In a procedural change in the International Feature Film Category, all eligible Academy members will now be invited to participate in the preliminary round of voting. For the first time, film submissions will be made available through the Academy Screening Room Streaming platform to those members who opt-in. These members of the International Feature Film Preliminary voting committee must meet a minimum viewing requirement in order to be eligible to vote in the category

If you’ve ever read those anonymous submissions about the films nominated by the Oscar voters themselves (and if you haven’t, I recommend you do) – you’ll know some voters just can’t be arsed to watch all the films. They might go for the big name director or just whatever film Twitter is shouting at them to do. But finally the Academy have shown us they actually might have a method to monitor what their voters are actually watching. Given that they’ve also announced this will be the last year DVD screeners will be sent out (“as part of the Academy’s sustainability effort”, then they might want to take a look at those huge ‘gift bags’ given to nominees…), it seems like they’re taking the leap to predominately using this “Academy Screening Room Streaming platform”. Even if they stop ‘streaming films’ from being eligible once this is all over, I really hope this is something they decide to keep in place, to avoid future major Oscar snubs… *Coughs* Greta Gerwig deserved best director for Lady Bird.

All in all, I think the Academy’s made some pretty good choices here. The film industry is confronted with a whole new landscape right now, they’re figuring out how to make films again just as much as we’re figuring out how many streaming services is one too many. It’s a little while to go until the Oscars next year, but hopefully these plans will make the Academy more inclusive and diverse – anyone else see Spielberg sending Netflix an apology letter? Nah, me neither.

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AUTHOR: Harriet Metcalfe
English Literature BA student. Loves film, TV, books and coffee. Thinks "Thor: The Dark World" gets too much hate. Twitter: @hattiemetcalfe

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