Giving Awards to 'Roma' Is a "Devaluation of the Oscars," Say European Exhibitors

Roma Still 1 - Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of TIFF

Theater owners complain of Netflix “buying the Oscars” and call for the Academy to honor only “films designed for cinemas and released in cinemas.”

If you thought that Roma losing out to Green Book for this year's best picture Oscar would mean the end of Netflix bashing, think again.

The winners of the 91st Academy Awards barely had time to start in on the champagne before theater owners — particularly in Europe — began to weigh in with criticism of the decision to award Alfonso Cuaron's Netflix production Roma the Oscar for best director, best cinematography and best foreign-language film.

“We consider giving three awards to Roma a devaluation of the Oscars,” Detlef Rossmann, president of art house cinema association CICAE, told The Hollywood Reporter, adding that because Roma wasn't “visible in most cinemas worldwide,” the Oscars have become another version of the Emmys, honoring “television productions.”

CICAE called on the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to “redefine the Oscar nomination rules and terms to clarify the difference between film and television.”

It was a sentiment echoed by exhibitors across Europe, where the majority of theater owners have been united in their opposition to Netflix and to Roma being given pride of place at film festivals and cinema awards ceremonies.

Exhibitors in France last year successfully lobbied to get the Cannes Film Festival to ban Netflix films from its official competition, a move that led Roma to skip Cannes and premiere in Venice, where Cuaron won the Golden Lion for best film, kicking off the movie's award campaign. But at every stage, theater owners have protested Netflix's decision to not give Roma a “proper” theatrical bow.

Francois Ayme, president of France's art house cinema association AFCAE, welcomed the Academy's decision to award Green Book the best picture Oscar over Roma, noting it was a way to say “that Roma is not 'totally' a film because it lacked a theatrical release.”

Ayme also noted Netflix's costly Oscar campaign, saying the streaming giant “spent an astronomical sum promoting Roma to the Academy, well beyond the cost of the film itself.” The money, Ayme argued, would have been better spent promoting a proper theatrical release for Cuaron's movie.

"The Oscars proved correct in defending the theatrical release," added Francesco Rutelli, president of ANICA, Italy's national association of producers and distributors. "Green Book's victory indirectly reasserts the power of cinema halls even as the value chain is becoming increasingly integrated."

“Netflix obviously didn't care about the film Roma, they just wanted to use the Oscars as a way to promote their brand,” Christian Brauer, chair of German exhibitors association AG Kino, told THR. “And to try and force their strategy of bypassing theatrical releases onto the industry.” He noted, however, that Roma's failure to clinch the best picture Oscar shows “that money can't buy everything.”

While united in their opposition to Netflix, European exhibitors all praised the film itself, and most welcomed the Academy's decision to give Cuaron the best director Oscar. 

Some also held out hope that the debate surrounding Roma would lead to Netflix reassessing its theatrical strategy.

“We saw a film like Cold War — also foreign-language, also black-and-white — did extremely well theatrically,” said Brauer. “Roma could have been a box office success, and Netflix could have benefited from that.”

Added Tim Richards, CEO of British-based cinema chain Vue International: “Netflix should not underestimate the value and impact of a full theatrical release for the content it owns and we are hopeful they will be open to discussing how to reach a broader audience with exhibitors in the future.”

Jason Chae, CEO of South Korean indie distributor Mirovision, was a dissenting voice, however, arguing that in many markets the streamer is filling a market gap.

“Netflix allows smaller and more experimental films to reach larger audiences in more territories,” he said. “I myself was happy to find a film I had missed at Sundance to be available on Netflix. Consumption patterns are changing, and it’s about time the industry does, too.”