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Netflix Can Chill: Academy Rules No Change in Streaming Oscar Eligibility

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will not change eligibility rules for the Oscars, despite speculation that streaming companies might see a crackdown on their release practices when pursuing golden trophies.

A board of governors meeting on Tuesday voted to maintain the status quo, that any feature-length film can be considered for the Academy Award as long as it has a seven-day run, with three public screenings per day, in Los Angeles. Films can hit alternative release platforms like Netflix or Amazon Prime on or after the first day of a run and remain eligible.

“We support the theatrical experience as integral to the art of motion pictures, and this weighed heavily in our discussions,” Academy President John Bailey said in a statement. “Our rules currently require theatrical exhibition, and also allow for a broad selection of films to be submitted for Oscars consideration.”

Bailey added that the board would “further study the profound changes occurring in our industry.” Not unlike the change that inspired rampant rumors that tonight’s board meeting would be a screaming match between the filmmaking establishment and the deep-pocketed streamers.

The latter increasingly find themselves patrons of A-list filmmakers desperate for creative freedom, who in turn want distributors who embrace experimental work. This was the case with Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma,” a Spanish-language film shot entirely in black and white, which won three Oscars this year including best director. Financed and distributed by Netflix, the film received an unprecedented three-week exclusive theatrical run before it was available on the streaming service. This move did not appease the national theater chains (AMC, Regal, CineMark), who typically demand 90 days of exclusivity before films hit home entertainment and paid video on demand.

After this year’s Oscar trophies were handed out, IndieWire reported that iconic director Steven Spielberg was concerned about preserving the national pastime of going to the movies and signaled he would ask the board (on which he sits, in the Directors branch) to revisit considering films that do not offer significant releases in theaters.

While Spielberg never elaborated on comments made through a spokesperson, Hollywood was sent into a panic over the potential consequences — especially given the efforts Netflix and Amazon have made in the past year to bolster their awards teams and lure top talent from the studios. The mere suggestion dragged Spielberg’s fellow mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg to the defense. It got the Department of Justice riled up over possible anticompetitive agreements, and made Helen Mirren hurl obscenities on a Las Vegas stage.

All for nothing, it would seem. The rule goes unchanged.

The Academy got up to other business, however, on Tuesday. One significant change comes in the best foreign language film category, which this year went to, uh, “Roma.” The category has been renamed, and will now be known as best international feature film.

“We have noted that the reference to ‘Foreign’ is outdated within the global filmmaking community,” said Larry Karaszewski and Diane Weyermann, co-chairs of the International Feature Film Committee. “We believe that International Feature Film better represents this category, and promotes a positive and inclusive view of filmmaking, and the art of film as a universal experience.”

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