Just a week ago, we were thinking of writing a piece about the controversy that arose between Steven Spielberg and Netflix following the alleged statements of the director’s confidant. According to Indiewire, a spokesman for his field said: “Steven has a very strong opinion on the differences between cinema and streaming. He would like others to join his campaign when it arises. We’ll see what happens.” The ‘campaign’ to which he referred to proposed the possibility that films produced by Netflix would not be represented at the Oscars. Automatically, the news was published in countless national and international media. Each and every one of them alluded to the words of the director’s close source to justify headlines like: “Steven Spielberg charges Netflix and reopens the debate about streaming”, “Spielberg’s attack on Netflix movies”, or even “Steven Spielberg is working to make movies like ‘Rome’ never reach the Oscars in the future.”
The incident would have elevated the text that would’ve published in Proa Comunicación towards the debate between the cinema and streaming platforms, fully reaching the plane of a cinematographic praxis that is redefining itself. The article would have reflected different currents of opinion that would have served to provide arguments to those who have yet to form a clear opinion about the issue, but it would’ve done nothing more than stoke some doubts that are nonetheless healthy to formulate. However, we don’t consider it imperative or crucial because of the scarce connection it would have with the field of communication, being a mere article oriented on audiovisual consumption trends.
Apart from a series of timid responses from second and third tier actors (see Charlie Hunnam), Alfonso Cuarón, winner of the Oscar for Best Director for ‘Roma’, published a reflection on distribution models, supposedly in response to Spielberg. The main conclusion was: “We need more diversity in the way we release our films,” a correct and elegant answer. Netflix, on the other hand, replied to Spielberg through Twitter:
We love cinema. Here are some things we also love:
-Access for people who can’t always afford, or live in towns without, theaters
-Letting everyone, everywhere enjoy releases at the same time
-Giving filmmakers more ways to share art
These things are not mutually exclusive.
— Netflix Film (@NetflixFilm) 4 de marzo de 2019
Netflix as a standard of freedom, universality and artistic awareness. How ironic.
But then just a week later, The Hollywood Reporter publishes nuances and completely changes the version of Spielberg through another spokesman. A ‘rectification’ that, on the other hand, has not had the same impact – at least in the national press – as the alleged proposition. This detail now already makes it a direct attack on the reputation of the director, and that’s why it attracted our attention.
Producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, who co-founded DreamWorks with Spielberg and David Geffen, told the media: “I talked to Steven about this yesterday, I asked him and he said, ‘I did not say that at all.’ He didn’t really say anything. What happened was that a journalist was looking for something to spread and heard a rumor about Steven. They called a spokesperson to draw out a comment and honestly they twisted it around. One, Steven did not say that, and two, he will not go to the Academy in April with some type of hidden agenda. Rather, he hasn’t weighed in at all, nor has he aligned himself with any specific position.” What does this change? Everything. But the damage is already done.
It’s undeniable that Spielberg himself has contributed to his own reputational damage by breaking two golden rules of the management of any crisis: time and exposure. Leaving a week in any crisis is irresponsible. Positions must be defined beforehand and time is key. Therefore, a week of feeding all kinds of criticism and debate has played against him. On the other hand, if you do not correct the falsehood, you cannot pretend to completely reverse it through a third spokesperson. That Jeffrey Katzenberg had to ‘show his face’ for Spielberg denotes a certain weakness and even reinforces the belief that it still isn’t Steven’s genuine opinion that we’re being told.
But what if that campaign mentioned by the anonymous source was in fact true, and that organized impact has simply caused the director to stand back? Apart from personal considerations about his filmography, about his person or about his work, it is undeniable that Spielberg is a film deity. Demonizing his character for questioning Netflix is just more evidence of the tyranny of the audience.
In one way or another, whether due to defamation or an incorrect clarification or correction, the reputational damage to Steven Spielberg has already been done, and it cannot be solved unless he himself puts an end to it. In conclusion, it is necessary to point out that it is somewhat ironic to accuse the director of denying Netflix and bring forth propositions to an Academy that has so often denied him recognition and, according to many rumors, never forgave him for eclipsing the most avant-garde cinema of the 70s, supporting in its place a series of more conventional characteristics that, on the other hand, were those that impelled the golden age of the 50. But this is already another story …
To conclude, it should be noted that on occasion, Carlos Boyero is right: “Steven Spielberg is the king, a king with sense, a total and complete man of cinema. I hope that the power will be brought about by people with the talent of Spielberg.”
|Álvaro Ramos Izquierdo
Senior Communications Consultant, aficionado of the eminently artistic essence of film and, nonetheless, a mythomaniac of the Oscars.