Ava DuVernay Pushes Back at Spielberg's Claims Over Netflix

The debate grows more intense.

Just last week we revealed the trailer for director Ava DuVernay's latest four-part series, When They See Us, set to debut on Netflix later this year.

Now the filmmaker has come to the defense of Netflix after the streaming service had come under attack by Steven Spielberg in the seemingly neverending debate over the value and threats of digital streaming. 

Other filmmakers have already spoken out on the subject, including Paul Schrader and Sean Baker. Now DuVernay, who is very much a prominent figure in the Netflix wheelhouse, has chosen to speak out over those who claim that Netflix is bad for theatrical business. Is it as simple as that? DuVernay doesn't think so.

Access is key to debates like this: who gets to see your film? For how much of an admission fee? Over what platform? By denying a piece of art the ability to stream, does that decision come from a place of gatekeepers looking to limit access to underserved cinemagoers?

As we've found out, it's a complicated subject, one that may only grow as the days move forward. What's your opinion on the matter? Let us know in the comments below.      

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Your Comment


We need Theatrical Release and we need Netflix also.

Why some film makers hate Netflix ?

1. Netflix does not disclose its numbers like - How many people have watched the respective Documentary or a Film on Netflix ? At least with studio system we know how much a movie collected at the box-office ensuring the film makers get a backend if at all there is any. With Netflix it’s just a void.

2. Netflix pays pennies on the dollar for some good films and pays a huge amount for some crappy films. The genuine Film Maker is at loss always. Netflix does not disclose their viewing numbers and hence cheat film-makers. Netflix does little on the publicity/promotion of a film, hence most films disappear without a trace never to be found. Available on Netflix does not mean it will be watched by people in 190 countries. Available on Netflix means its not available anywhere else.

3. In the movie business or any product business...we need to milk it to the maximum so that everyone in the chain makes a good profit. If you put any movie on Netflix...its cost is $0 for the audience as they are already on a monthly subscription. It should be the last one in the Chain...first being Theatrical --> Video on Demand --> Streaming (Netflix/YouTube). Proper window system should be followed in order to give opportunity for each venue to generate revenue.

4. Netflix is not playing a fair game, it’s just pumping $$ to make content (Good TV Series but mostly crappy Original Movies) by raising its long-term debt and not thinking about the overall health of the movie industry. If it continues, it will be another case of "MoviePass" where MoviePass tried to disrupt the system and got burnt because it lowered the movie ticket cost to 33 cents/ticket.

5. Netflix is required for films which do not need a theatrical release just like how we used to have Straight to DVD / TV movies. Netflix can tell varied stories which would not see the light of the day. They can be eligible for Emmy's and not the Oscars (They can have a separate Category in Oscars which says, “Best TV/Streaming” Movie).

6. Netflix and other Streaming sites will be solely responsible for destruction of Theatrical Business in USA.... while rest of the world enjoys movies in big movie Theatres where they follow proper release window while folks in US have to watch on iphones/laptops/TVs. A Netflix or Amazon can never do the same for example in a country like India where Theatrical Release is the most important part of a movie release.

The Theatrical exhibition business also has to evolve and use technology to the fullest in order to avoid the onslaught of Streaming services. The movie theatres have to come up with new innovative ideas in order to get the audience to the theatres.

The A-List Actors also have to demand a theatrical release window before their movies are available for streaming. Initially the actors might be paid big amounts by Netflix or others, but eventually in the future they will be just salaried employees if this continues.

The issue can be resolved if we prioritize Film and Film-makers and the overall health of the Film Industry… the rest of the folks like Distribution or Streaming comes later.

We need good content, good stories, good directors who can tell those stories, good actors who can present those stories and then a sustainable business model. Disruption is good when it adds value in the long run, not when it destroys the very purpose.

March 4, 2019 at 3:14PM

Kalyan Palla

Indie filmmakers face huge challenges in accessing the traditional distribution system. It is reserved to established movie companies and studios. New emerging filmmakers have little hope of securing theatrical release. In case a miracle happens and the distribution company manages to get a LIMITED theatrical release, then its revenues would go toward covering marketing costs, real or imaginary, incurred by distributors. In that sense, Steven Spielberg indeed acts like a gatekeeper protecting interests of big movie businesses but not that of a new generation of film-makers. Netflix is not easily accessible either but I know young indie guys who recuped beautifully their first movie (x9). I also watch a LOT of great movies and TV series from India, China and Russia on Netflix, it's really exciting to see fresh approaches to film-making. Otherwise, protectionist policies stifle the internal US movie market; we are forced to watch remakes, sequels and ages-old formulas rehashed for emptienth time. Currently in the final stages of post production of my second movie GREATLAND, I am contemplating all possible ways of distributing it and financial aspects weigh heavily on my mind. (https://www.seedandspark.com/fund/greatland?#story) Spielberg hasn't done much to help diverse female film-makers of which I am one So I am team Netflix and Ava DuVerney!

March 4, 2019 at 7:39PM

Dana Ziyasheva

Great points, Dana! I totally agree on the importance of diverse cultures and approaches to storytelling.

This debate is bringing some interesting perspectives and suggestions. The emphasis seems to have shifted away from the original premise of Oscar eligibility denied to Netflix products, and more to the economics and opportunities that have changed because of streaming. The short approach: the Academy gets to decide the rules for their "club". The problem: their club influence has a major impact on so many people excluded from that club.

The general discussion, then, has to consider all streamers, not just Netflix. From there, one also has to wind back and see how YouTube probably got this whole snowball rolling way back when - giving individuals a money-making platform outside the establishment system. Yes, sure, it also opened the flood gates for piracy, but that's a different debate. The opportunities for independents have expanded, and the traditional system is late to the game and now grapples to control something (which is really not theirs to control) with their out-of-date rules and perceived supremacy.

The tip of this iceberg first popped up in the 2018 Cannes/Netflix controversy. Netflix evolved.

What no-one seems to express is the value decline of the Oscars. Awards and accolades are important, for sure. And having an "oscar winner" subtitle still seems holds weight - within the system. But the Hollywood system needs to evolve, and the Academy needs to address the biased, irresponsible approach to voting that's been revealed in places like The Hollywood Reporter interviews with anonymous voters. The insincerity is gobsmackingly unprofessional and makes me question the validity of those members, the process and the institution. The Academy has had a horrendous couple of years: backpeddling their announcements on awards and categories, their hostless presentation or hosts that don't understood what the event itself is about, the "invasion" of politics. After this year's ceremony and this ensuing debate, I'm taking a major step back in my reverence of the Academy as a pinnacle institution.

It is possible to evolve within the mainstream. BAFTA was "the poor cousin" to the Academy on the world stage, but after a makeover that re-positioned their award show earlier in the season, and adding a platform for the gaming industry, they demonstrate that they are acknowledging a broad spectrum of storytelling.

This Gordian Knot of intertwined economics/opportunity with art/storytelling is not new, but there is a plethora of new ways for artists to get eyeballs on their work. Flexibility is essential in creativity, and that includes the structures that support it towards thriving. And this is the major sticking point in this debate: system exclusivity and limitations vs. artist opportunity and audience connection.

Congrats on your second feature, Dana. I hope it finds an audience \o/

March 8, 2019 at 3:31PM


Spielberg has completely lost touch with reality...if he ever was "in" touch (Jaws).

March 5, 2019 at 7:12AM

Dylan Sunshine Saliba