Mudbound stars to Oscar eligibility moaners: 'Get with the programme' (exclusive)

Tom Butler
Senior Editor

Should movies that go straight to streaming platforms be eligible for prestigious awards? This is the question currently troubling the organisation responsible for the Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Filmmaker Dee Rees, the writer and director of ‘Mudbound’ which comes to Netflix on Friday and is being talked about as a genuine Oscar contender, responds to the question with a hypothetical that is hard to argue with.

“If I read Faulkner on my Kindle, is it not literature?” Rees asks. “If I read a paperback instead of a hardback is it not literature? I would really question that. I think that’s a flawed argument, and I think that any work should be evaluated on the merits of the work. Excellence should be the standard, and that’s it.”

Director and co-writer Dee Rees with star Mary J Blige on the set of ‘Mudbound’ (Netflix)

In September, 300 Academy members met to officially discuss the question of eligibility of straight-to-streaming movies for awards consideration. A committee was formed to probe the issue after fears were raised about the possibility of a straight-to-streaming movie possibly winning an Oscar and an Emmy (the American equivalent of a TV BAFTA) in the same year.

One prominent Academy member is said to have suggested Netflix could represent “a cheapening of the Oscar.” To date, Netflix Original productions have earned seven Oscar nominations, with one win in 2017 for best Documentary (Short Subject) with ‘The White Helmets’.

The streaming giant is aggressively pursuing awards glory, and ‘Mudbound’ could represent its fledging studio’s best shot at picking up gongs this coming awards season. For a film to be eligible for an Oscar, it has to have had a theatrical release, and so ‘Mudbound’ (like Bong Joon-Ho’s ‘Okja’ earlier this year) will receive a limited theatrical release to ensure awards eligibility.

Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund play returning WWII heroes who receive wildly varying receptions when they return home to their families. (Netflix)

Jason Clarke, who plays stubborn farmer Henry McAllan in the racially-charged Deep South-set drama, says the Academy needs to keep up with the times and recognise the changing landscape of film consumption.

“Get with the times,” Clarke urges. “Get with what’s going on. A film is a film, a piece of art is a piece of art at the end of the day. Judge it for what it is. If a film is a great film… nothing’s going to change my opinion of that. If I can vote on that, I will. And I’ll vote according to what the art it, rather than the politics of matters.”

‘Mudbound’ was a huge hit at Sundance earlier this year, sparking a bidding war between all the major studios. Netflix came out on top, and Garrett Hedlund – Henry’s war hero brother Jamie – says this gives the film a chance to reach more people than it would have with a traditional theatrical release.

“With Netflix distributing [‘Mudbound’] it gets to many more territories and regions than this film ever would have done in most theatres,” Hedlund explains.

“There’s a lot of towns and cities and places all over the world that don’t have theatres, so I think it’s a wonderful thing.”

The film vividly captures life in the 1940s American South, following the fortunes of two intertwined families, pitted against one another by a ruthless social hierarchy. The themes of division and social barriers couldn’t be more timely, so the more people see this sensational movie, the better. Add it to your list on Netflix immediately.

‘Mudbound’ launches on Netflix and in cinemas with Curzon on November 17th

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