Netflix vs. Cinema: The Inclusive Streaming Revolution
"We love cinema. Here are some things we also love:-Access for people who can't always afford, or live in towns without, theatres -Letting everyone, everywhere enjoy releases at the same time-Giving filmmakers more ways to share art These things are not mutually exclusive." - Netflix on Twitter
At the big boy table of film, Netflix has often been seen as the kid that eats lunch in the toilets alone. Not strong enough to be picked first in gym, laughed out of the room by bigger kids. The debate on whether or not Netflix is a valid outlet for the biggest and more Oscar-worthy films creeps up from time to time, the latest instalment features Steven Spielberg, who is part of an effort to bar films primarily distributed by streaming services like Netflix from nominations at the academy:
"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 theatres for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination."
- taken from an interview with Steven Spielberg in Esquire.
Spielberg is not alone in his criticism of Netflix of course, Christopher Nolan has also mentioned the strategy of the popular streaming site:
“Netflix has a bizarre aversion to supporting theatrical films,” he said. “They have this mindless policy of everything having to be simultaneously streamed and released, which is obviously an untenable model for theatrical presentation. So they’re not even getting in the game, and I think they’re missing a huge opportunity.” (Indiewire)
We have seen these Directors, these immense talents, rally against the easy access of the streaming site, as though cinematic experience is the only way to view a film. So, if you do not have a local cinema, you are out of luck, and If you cannot afford the travel expense or ticket to a cinema outside of your hometown, that's on you. A famous Spielberg quote references the experience of cinema being magic, regardless of what the film actually is.
"Every time I go to a movie, it's magic, no matter what the movie's about." - Steven Spielberg
Almost all of us have fond memories of our cinema trips of course, but in an age of accessibility and inclusion, we now have an opportunity and responsibility to share the magic of film in other ways. With the death of widespread video rental stores, streaming sites like Netflix give us a way to see that magic in an accessible for all way, we should be building on that strategy, not dismissing it.
I hesitate to use the term elitism, though it has been brought up quite a lot in this on-going debate of streaming vs. cinema, as the directors and film fans with strong nostalgic and heartfelt ties to the cinematic experience are just as valid as those who prefer easy, at home access.
Though the term does hold some validity in the sense that there is a whole other side to this argument that we have failed to take into consideration: those that can't go to a cinema.
Not only is there the issue of towns not having a local cinema, or even that some small-scale cinemas are dying out - only able to show blockbusters and films they know will sell tickets, at least this is the strategy of my own small town chain cinema. There is also the issue of a film lover struggling to put together the price of a cinema ticket, let alone a bus fare or taxi to and from a showing. A trip can be expensive, and while the cinematic experience paired with a great film can absolutely be worth it, not everyone is able to afford such a luxury. We should not shame someone for that.
Furthermore, the able-bodied, mentally stable cinema-goer can get to the cinema, walk up to the ticket counter, ask for a ticket, walk through the lobby and locate their seat all with ease, and perhaps not a thought for the wheelchair user, the hearing or visually impaired, the anxious, mentally unwell, nervous film lover whose experience and desire to see that film is every bit as valid as theirs. For those less fortunate, those of us that struggle to leave the house because of anxiety or depression, those of us that are worried of having to sit next to a stranger, or managing pain that means the thought of sitting still in a hard chair for 90+ minutes is too much to bear. There are countless reasons as to why an individual is unable to make it to the cinema, none of which invalidates them as a person who loves film.
Film is a magical, universal and educational tool that has the power to bring us together. Film lets us share an emotion, a gasp or tear, a laugh and a scare. It bonds us in ways little else can. It can show us a world different than our own, educate us on how other people live, how they feel, how they see things differently. Film makes us better people, it heals and gives us an escape or validation in our own lives and struggles. It can make us feel seen, acknowledged. Why would we wish to punish a service that allows us these visceral and personal experiences in comfort? How we see those moments together may vary, but each is as valid. Film is the art, cinema is just one outlet in a world of accessibility through choice.