Two Netflix docus, “What Happened Miss Simone?” and “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom,” garnered Academy Awards nods Thursday.
But drama “Beasts of No Nation” from director Cary Fukunaga was ignored by the Academy, despite an aggressive lobbying campaign by Netflix to woo voters. Netflix paid nearly $12 million for the rights to “Beasts of No Nation,” plus whatever it plunked down to promote the film, hoping to curry Oscar’s favor. The company released the drama about an unnamed, war-torn West African nation simultaneously in theaters and on its global streaming platform last October.
For “Beasts,” many hoped British thesp Idris Elba would make it into the running for best supporting actor. (It’s worth noting that no black actors picked up an Oscar nomination this year.) Elba received a 2016 Golden Globes best supporting actor nomination for “Beasts”; he lost to Sylvester Stallone, who won for his reprise of Rocky Balboa in “Creed.”
It’s also possible some industryites were turned off by Netflix’s business model — that it was somehow a movie less worthy of recognition because it hit the Internet-streaming service as it was playing in cinemas, or that Netflix is perceived as a threat to the long-term health of theatrical distribution. But perhaps a bigger reason for the shutout was that “Beasts of No Nation” dealt with subject matter Academy members found inaccessible or simply too foreign.
Meanwhile, Netflix has better odds than ever at winning an Oscar in the documentary category, though it will be hard to beat the much-awarded “The Look of Silence” and the critically and commercially successful “Amy.”
Liz Garbus’ “What Happened Miss Simone?” about jazz singer Nina Simone and “Winter on Fire,” a retelling of the unrest in Ukraine over 93 days in 2013 and 2014, will also face off against hard-hitting and topical “Cartel Land.”
Netflix has clearly become a significant player in the documentary world, and this year marks the third straight year its documentary titles have been on the Oscar ballot. In 2014, “The Square,” about the 2011 popular uprising in Egypt, was in contention, and last year “Virunga,” about endangered gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was nominated in the category. The streaming service has focused on procuring quality under Lisa Nishimura, VP of original documentary programming. Netflix’s wildly-popular “Making a Murderer” docuseries is also likely to be an awards contender at the Emmys next fall.
Netflix’s only Oscar win so far came in 2014, for short documentary “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life,” about pianist and Holocaust survivor Alice Herz-Sommer.
Kristopher Tapley contributed to this report.