Movie academy announces rule changes but backs off fight with Netflix

Oscar statuettes prepare to go to their new homes.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

On Tuesday evening, the motion picture academy’s 54-member board of governors announced a handful of new rules for next year’s Oscars. But, despite widespread speculation that the organization would use the occasion to try to hold the line against the rise of streaming services like Netflix, which some regard as a major threat to the traditional moviegoing experience, the group decided in the end to maintain its existing rules governing eligibility for awards consideration.

Last month, reports emerged that board member Steven Spielberg intended to propose rule changes aimed at leveling the playing field between Netflix — which earned its first best picture nomination this year for Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” — and traditional distributors when it comes to Oscar consideration.

On social media and across Hollywood, battle lines quickly formed in what some saw as an existential fight over the very meaning of movies in the streaming age.

But Spielberg was absent from Tuesday’s meeting at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ headquarters in Beverly Hills due to his work schedule, and the board ultimately decided to punt on the streaming issue, maintaining the status quo, at least for the time being, even as it expressed support for the theatrical experience.

The board voted to keep in place the existing eligibility rule stating that a film must have a minimum seven-day theatrical run in a Los Angeles County commercial theater, with at least three screenings per day for paid admission. Movies that are simultaneously released via streaming — as is generally the norm with Netflix — remain eligible.


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“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. We plan to further study the profound changes occurring in our industry and continue discussions with our members about these issues.”

The decision to back off the streaming issue for now follows a series of reversals by the academy’s leadership that may have left the group a bit gun-shy. Last year, the board announced the creation of a new award for achievement in popular film and the removal of several awards from the live Oscars broadcast — proposals that were ultimately undone after fierce backlash.

The rule changes that the board did approve were relatively minor. Perhaps most significantly, reflecting the ever-expanding contingent of academy members from abroad, the board voted to change the name of the foreign language film category to international feature film.

“We have noted that the reference to ‘foreign’ is outdated within the global filmmaking community,” Larry Karaszewski and Diane Weyermann, co-chairs of the International Feature Film Committee, said in a statement. “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.”

Among the other small tweaks to the rules: In the makeup and hairstyling category, the number of nominated films is increasing from three to five, and the shortlist is increasing from seven to 10.

The academy’s full rules are posted on its website. The 92nd Oscars will be held Feb. 9, 2020.

Twitter: @joshrottenberg