While the Academy is still debating how to settle the debate over whether streaming movies should be eligible at the Oscars, the Directors Guild of America is taking a step against direct-to-streaming films. It was announced today that the DGA has decided to ban day-and-date releases from eligibility for its top award, which has been renamed “Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Theatrical Feature Film.” This means that movies from streamers like Netflix for Amazon that are released on streaming the same day they’re released in theaters will be ineligible for the top DGA award.
“The DGA proudly affirms that a first-run theatrical release is a distinctive element of our feature film award,” said DGA President Thomas Schlamme in a statement. “We celebrate the important role that theatrical cinema has played in bringing together audiences as they collectively experience films as the filmmakers intended them to be viewed. We also take great pride in recognizing all of the work created by our members through the many categories and formats that are part of the DGA Awards.”
This new rule does not, however, apply to the First-Time Feature category, which will be open to all types of exhibition for feature-length films.
The rule change isn’t a major problem for Netflix now, which struggled to find the right way to release awards contenders like Roma and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs last year. They eventually settled on short limited theatrical releases for these films before they landed on Netflix. In the case of Roma, the eventual Oscar-winning film was released into specialty theaters for three weeks before its release on Netflix, which was a significant change in tune from the streamer which previously argued that its subscribers would balk at seeing a Netflix movie released in theaters before they could stream it. As it turns out, nobody cares and actually putting your movie in a movie theater offers a whole new way to experience it. A novel idea!
Netflix is said to be mulling a similar release strategy for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman later this year, which would make it eligible for the top DGA award. Really the only films that are edged out by this rule change are day-and-date Netflix movies like Always Be My Maybe and The Perfection, which aren’t exactly being positioned as awards contenders in the first place.
Instead, this feels more like a statement by the DGA to bolster its support for theatrical exhibition. Which I’m fine with—I also think Netflix should be releasing its major films in theaters in addition to on the streaming service, to give people the option of seeing the new Scorsese film in a theater. But this rule change by the DGA is largely symbolic. Case in point: last year’s top DGA award, without this rule, went to… Alfonso Cuaron for Roma.