Something about the awards run of Mudbound has been rather suspicious. The film has picked up major nominations from the Broadcast Film Critics Association: Supporting Actress for Mary J. Blige, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Ensemble. It also received the Robert Altman Award for its Ensemble from the Independent Spirit Awards. However, the BFCA snubbed it for Best Picture, the film was nowhere to be found on the annual Top Ten lists from the National Board Of Review and the American Film Institute. And it was snubbed in every other category by the Independent Spirit Awards.
If awards bodies have clearly seen and embraced the film, why is it that they’re not citing one of the year’s best reviewed films (currently boasting a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) for Best Picture?
Well, a chief factor has to be that it’s distributed by Netflix. It is likely that voting bodies fear that a Best Film citation for it is a way of encouraging Netflix’s day-and-date releasing strategy. Which is becoming controversial to voters in the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. According to one voter, the possibility of a film being up for an Oscar and possibly an Emmy as well could represent a “cheapening of the Oscar.”
Now, there is something to be said about Netflix’s releasing strategy which has resulted in their films struggling to find an audience. It’s become pretty clear they should give their films a traditional theatrical release so that viewers don’t have to type in the “Search” engine bar to find a film they want to watch. However, that doesn’t mean that Mudbound should have to suffer over Hollywood’s indignation. Mudbound is one of the year’s best films with breathtaking cinematography, tremendous acting across the board, and seamless direction by Dee Rees. It should be celebrated for those reasons. Hate the distributor all you want but once you separate from the film from its handler, you’ll see that it’s a great film. For the record, when it premiered at Sundance, no other distributor would pick it up.
It would also be a shame if it got ignored over its label because the Academy has an opportunity to allow historical firsts to be accomplished. Dee Rees would be the first woman of color to be nominated for Best Director. Cinematographer Rachel Morrison would be the first woman ever to be up for Best Cinematography. Composer Tamar-Kali Brown could be the first woman of color nominated for Best Original Score. And editor Mako Kamitsuna would be the first Asian woman up for Best Film Editing.
As people call for the industry to change in terms of hiring more female and ethnic talent, Mudbound serves as a reminder that there are female artists of different races waiting for their filmmaking voices to be heard. It’s nice that Greta Gerwig is the Best Director category’s best shot at female representation. But who says she has to be the only woman in the conversation?
But Mudbound isn’t the only film that Netflix has kept in the awards conversation. They also have sent out screeners for the satirical fable Okja by Bong Joon-Ho. But outside of making the AMPAS’ Visual Effects shortlist, Okja has been ignored everywhere else. Whether it has been ignored because of its label or because it came out too early in the year remains to be seen. If it is because of its Netflix label, then Okja shouldn’t be punished because Bong Joon-Ho took his film to a distributor that let him stick to his creative vision without any interference.
To ignore a film because of its handler would mean a great level of hypocrisy. Voters willingly recognize films that come out at the very end of December just so that they can qualify for an awards run even if they don’t have a wide expansion. Yes, those films have a traditional release strategy. But, because Netflix releases their films in a handful of theaters so that they can qualify for the Oscars, the same standards should still apply to them.
Admittedly, it would be better if Netflix were to pull the same strategy as Amazon Studios and release their films traditionally in theaters and then stream them shortly after they leave theaters. Frustratingly, they won’t seem to budge on their day-and-date release. But at the end of the day, it shouldn’t be a question as to whether or not “Netflix films” should be considered films. Movies are movies that should still be judged on merit and not distribution.
If voters love Mudbound enough to nominate it for Best Picture, they should go ahead and do so.