The 91st annual Academy Awards are underway at the Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles, and Netflix is after its first Best Picture win for Alfonso Cuaron's lauded Roma.

By Daniel Herborn


Posted on February 25, 2019

UPDATE: Roma has missed out on the Best Picture nod to Green Book, upsetting critics, who strongly favoured Cuaron’s film.

Pulitzer Prize Winner Wesley Morris said that “a fear and resentment of Netflix” partly explained Roma being overlooked.

Earlier, Alfonso Cuaron was named Best Director for his work on the film. “Being here doesn’t get old,” he told the audience.

“I want to thank the Academy for recognising a film centred around an Indigenous woman, one of the 70 million domestic workers in the world without work rights. A character that has historically been relegated to the background in cinema.”

UPDATE: Roma has become the first Mexican film to win the Best Foreign Picture category. It was a prohibitive favourite in the category.

PREVIOUSLY:Netflix has spent an estimated US$30 million on its Best Picture campaign for Roma, a figure that easily outstrips the usual promotional budget for a Best Picture nominee and is around twice the budget of the entire film.

Hollywood strategist Tony Angellotti described the push for Roma as “the most aggressive campaign I’ve ever witnessed for any film—let alone a foreign-language, black-and-white film with no stars.”

Netflix “can’t afford to lose” after sinking millions into Roma campaign

The massive spend underlines the streaming giant’s determination to secure the critical cache and mainstream success that an Oscar win would mean. It would be the first time a Netflix original has won the category.

One industry insider told The Wrapthat if Netflix doesn’t win this year with Roma, it won’t ever win. “That’s why there’s so much riding on this — they simply can’t afford to lose.”

Roma was the favourite going into the night, ahead of Green Book. Early frontrunner A Star is Born has completely fallen away in betting markets after being upstaged at the Golden Globe Awards, where Bohemian Rhapsody won Best Picture.

Would Netflix becoming a studio player be bad news for cinemas?

Steven Spielberg is one prominent filmmaker apparently concerned about the possibility of streaming services dominating cinema. “I hope all of us really continue to believe that the greatest contributions we can make as filmmakers is to give audiences the motion picture theatrical experience,” he told the audience at the Cinema Audio Society’s CAS Awards. “I’m a firm believer that movie theaters need to be around forever.”

At the Film Independent Spirit Awards, held just one day before the Oscars, host Aubrey Plaza took a sardonic look at the growing influence of Netflix. “I do love movies. I truly believe that people should see them how they are meant to be seen. In the theaters!” she said to a cheering audience. “If the movie you poured your soul into is on Netflix it will be seen by millions of people as they scroll past it finding the show about folding socks into squares.”

Some industry figures have also speculated that Netflix becoming a major player in independent cinema could hurt smaller distributors. Netflix, with its US$150 billion market cap, has shown a willingness to spend big on awards campaigns that can elevate a small independent film like Roma to mainstream attention.

Netflix became the only the seventh member of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) on 22 January, cementing its progression from streaming service to a movie studio in its own right.

Header image credit: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences