Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma

Netflix's Intriguing Theatrical Strategy

BY: Zak Wojnar

Netflix is not a traditional studio. The content platform is in charge of an endless slew of original and syndicated programming, from movies, TV shows, documentaries, and even talk shows. The company invests billions of dollars into their bottomless deluge of content, all so that users can no longer complain that “there’s nothing to watch.”

Of course, they’ll complain anyway, but they definitely don’t have a leg to stand on, even through Netflix is problematic in how older movies and shows are taken off the service only to reemerge later. It’s a pesky trait, but a reality of the modern world of streaming.

The big debate around Netflix right now is whether or not their films should be considered “Made-for-Television” when it comes to awards season. The company recently found itself in hot water over the release of Mudbound, which earned some pushback from more out-of-touch members of the Academy, who refused to consider the Netflix Original on the same tier level as a movie from a traditional studio like Disney or Paramount. Mudbound was ultimately nominated for four Oscars, but failed to bring home any gold, despite being one of the most acclaimed films of the year.

For their part, Netflix has been side-stepping the controversy, opting to release their movies in theaters for a few weeks before debuting them on their platform as a way to appease the naysayers. This procedure demands that the Academy acknowledge Netflix as a genuine movie studio, to which they have no choice but to begrudgingly acquiesce.

All that nonsense aside, the fact remains that Netflix is absolutely killing it in terms of creating, acquiring, and curating new movies for consumers to easily access, especially in a world in which the price of movie tickets continue to rise to to the $20 range in big cities like New York and Los Angeles. We’ve seen MoviePass, which attempted to mitigate the financial damage to the wallets of cinema fanatics, collapse like a house of cards, though services like AMC A-List and Alamo Season Pass have begun to pick up the slack. Being able to watch a movie from the comfort of one’s own home is arguably superior than watching with a crowd of talkers, loud candy-eaters, and cell phone users.

But I digress. None of these cinema vs streaming debates are worth a damn if the content isn’t there to provoke consumers, which brings us to Roma, the latest film from Alfonso Cuarón. An intimate black and white drama about a family trying to get by in 1970s Mexico City, Roma is generating significant awards buzz due to its fast-paced script, beautiful setting, tremendous acting, and cinematography which reminds us why black and white is such an incredible and unique way to tell cinematic stories. Cuarón himself is no stranger to awards season, having directed such game-changers as Gravity, Y Tu Mamá También, and Children of Men. Basically, he knows what he’s doing.

Now that we think of it, the debate between streaming vs cinema calls to mind the debate between black and white vs color, with young people being tired of b&w, while old folks saw color as nothing more than a trend, alongside rock and roll and comic books. The debate died down as color became the de facto standard, but was revived during the rise of syndicated television in the 1980s, resulting in the unfortunate trend in the 1980s of bastardized “digitally colorized” versions of classics like Night of the Living Dead and Arsenic and Old Lace, courtesy of renowned weirdo Ted Turner.

Things change. Sometimes they stick, like color and streaming, and sometimes they don’t, like drive-in theaters and 3D projection. The cinematic landscape is always changing, but artistic merit is not reduced by embracing new media. The sooner we learn to accept that, the sooner we can get back to the true purpose of film, which is enjoying and learning from movies, regardless of how they are consumed.