On the heels of one of the most extravagant Oscar campaigns in years for the film Roma, Netflix took home four Academy Awards on Sunday night (three of which were for Roma), but fell short where it mattered most, losing out in the Best Picture category to the period piece Green Book.
The announcement late in the evening was a surprise to many, given the controversies that have shrouded Green Book–about a friendship between a black pianist and his white driver as they travel through the Deep South in the 1960s–for the past several weeks. Star Viggo Mortensen dropped a racial slur at an early press junket. Racist tweets by one of the film’s writers, Nick Vallelonga, resurfaced, as did old stories about its director, Peter Farrelly, indulging in lewd behavior earlier in his career. Yet even as the Twitterverse bashed the film over these indignities, and critics attacked it for painting a white-washed (literally) version of a story about race relations in this country, Green Book steadily racked up awards in the lead-up to the Oscars, including a Best Musical or Comedy feature win at the Golden Globes. The film also presumably benefited from the Academy’s preferential ballot system, which rewards films that aren’t necessarily voters’ first choice.
Roma, meanwhile–writer-director Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-white ode to his childhood nanny in Mexico–was bathed in adoration and fawning reviews and features ever since its debut at the Venice Film Festival last summer. The film was also seen as sending an important message about immigration, indigenous working women, and Mexico at a fraught time for all of those issues under the Trump administration. The film’s wins for Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Cinematography came as no surprise. (Netflix also won in the Documentary Short category for Period. End of Sentence.)
But in the end, the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences may not have been ready to award its top prize to a film from a streaming service, particularly one that is hellbent on destroying the traditional theatrical distribution model. Late in the game, Netflix decided to give Roma a longer theatrical run than it typically gives to awards contenders (three weeks), but that is still far shorter than the traditional 90-day window. (The vast majority of Netflix’s original film releases debut exclusively on its service.) Throughout the Oscar race, the buzz in Hollywood was that “a vote for Roma is a vote for Netflix.”
This didn’t stop Netflix, however, from mounting a no-holds-barred campaign that included a barrage of billboards, TV spots, glossy coffee-table books, experiential events, and private cocktail parties and screenings in support of Roma. As Fast Company was the first to report, the Roma campaign–which was spearheaded by Oscar consultant and Harvey Weinstein protégé Lisa Taback–is estimated to have cost about $25 million, though some observers say even that number is far too low.
Had Netflix taken home a Best Picture for Roma, it would have marked a huge milestone for the company, sending the message to filmmakers that the industry’s top prize can indeed be nabbed by a streamer. Even with the success of films like Roma and Bird Box, there is still a perception that Netflix is the place to sell films when studios won’t grant enough creative or financial freedom to filmmakers. A Best Picture win would have made great strides in changing that.
[Photo Illustration: Samir Abady; Yalitza Aparicio: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Diane von Furstenberg; Alfonso Cuaron: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images; Oscar statue: Bettmann/Getty Images]