The nominees for the 2016 Academy Awards are out, and one of the bigger snubs is Beasts of No Nation. The Cary Joji Fukunaga film, which features Idris Elba as an African warlord, did not receive a single nomination at the Oscars, despite the fact that Elba was previously nominated for his role at this year’s Gloden Globes.
Beasts of No Nation was acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, and it has been thought of as an Oscar contender since its release. Why, then, did Elba miss out? There are a lot of potential explanations, some of them racially-charged, but on a non-political level, Beasts of No Nation may have been snubbed because of its unconventional release. The prestige drama was distributed by Netflix, and as a result, it didn’t see a wide theatrical release. It is certainly feasible that Beasts of No Nation’s limited run hurt its chances–and those of its star–during awards season.
Netflix picked up Beasts of No Nation in March. Almost immediately, several theater chains, including AMC and Regal, announced a boycott of the film, citing the fact that Netflix planned to release it online the same day as its arrival in theaters. The chains wanted Netflix to wait 90 days before making Beasts of No Nation available for its subscribers, as had been the general protocol with other films, but the streaming video platform ignored that request and opted to forge a new distribution model for its first feature film.
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As a result, almost nobody saw Beasts of No Nation in theaters; the film grossed just $50,000 during a limited run at the American box office. Instead, viewers went online, where they streamed the film through Netflix. According to Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, more than three million people watched Beasts of No Nation during the first 11 days after its release.
Did Beasts of No Nation’s Academy viability suffer because of its limited availably on big screens? Another film distributed by a streaming video platform, Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, was also shut out at the Oscars. If Netflix and Amazon struggle to score major award nods for their films, will producers and filmmakers opt for traditional distribution instead?
Of course, Beasts of No Nation and Chi-Raq have another thing in common, something that has nothing to do with their unconventional release strategies. Both films are led by black actors, and in the wake of Elba’s Oscar snub, several publications have called out The Academy for the overwhelming whiteness of its nominees. The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag has seen a spike in popularity on Twitter, and the people using it are citing Elba’s absence within the Best Supporting Actor category as a primary grievance.
In terms of Elba’s snub, The Academy’s ongoing race problem is a more likely culprit than Netflix’s unconventional release strategy. Academy members did receive screener copies of Beasts of No Nation, so most of them had an opportunity to view it. Despite its award season shortcomings, filmmakers probably won’t shy away from streaming video platforms just because one film got a raw deal.
At the same time, this year’s Oscars were Netflix’s first chance to declare itself as a major player in the world of narrative film. With Beasts of No Nation shut out, we will have to wait another year for the streaming video industry’s grand entrance into Oscar season. Luckily, both Netflix and Amazon will distribute some intriguing titles that could pick up some buzz.