It took less than two weeks for Netflix to make good on its promise to begin distributing films in addition to original series. The premium online platform has picked up the distribution rights for The Square, an award-winning documentary about political unrest and huge-scale demonstrations that have taken place in Egypt over the last couple of years.
The Square, directed by Egyptian-American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim, follows a group of activists who took to Cairo’s Tahrir Square first during the Arab Spring and, more recently, during the large-scale protest that ended in the deposition of President Mohammed Morsi. The film has been screened at several film festivals, and took home awards at Sundance and Toronto. According to the LA Times, recent screenings have already begun to include the Netflix logo.
The Square is a very relevant pickup for Netflix because it represents the platform’s first chance to make noise at the Academy Awards. We’re still in the early stages of Oscar season, but some lists have The Square as a strong contender for Best Documentary Feature.
Winning (or even contending for) an Oscar would allow Netflix to make a strong statement. When David Fincher picked up the platform’s first Emmy for his directorial work on House of Cards, it represented a watershed moment for the platform, one that proved conventional release is no longer a requirement for critical recognition. Should The Square find pick up any major awards, it will make a similar point about theatrical distribution.
Even if The Square doesn’t become the film that boldly announces Netflix’s presence in Oscar discussion, it won’t be long before another film fills that role. Netflix reportedly plans to acquire the rights to many more films (and documentaries in particular), and while it may be too late for the platform to make a ton of noise during this awards season, expect it to become a strong contender by this time next year.