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Roma just scored Netflix its first Best Picture Oscar nomination

Netflix spent a reported $25 million on Roma’s awards season campaign. It paid off.

Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Yalitza Aparicio, Marina De Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, and Carlos Peralta Jacobson in Roma, written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Carlos Somonte/Netflix
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

It’s happened: Netflix’s Roma is officially a Best Picture nominee for the 2019 Oscars. Which means that for the first time, Netflix has a chance to win the Oscar for Best Picture.

This is not the first time Netflix has managed to finagle an Oscar nomination. In 2018, the company’s historical drama Mudbound was nominated for four Oscars — Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress for Mary J. Blige, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Song. Netflix also picked up a few nominations in the documentary categories in 2018, but it did not win in any category.

Now, Netflix has once again earned the attention of the Academy with Roma, director Alfonso Cuarón’s intimate story of a domestic worker in Mexico City in 1971, drawn from Cuarón’s memories of his childhood.

The film secured a total of 10 nominations, including nods for Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Cinematography, making Cuarón the only director in history to be nominated for both Best Director and Best Cinematography simultaneously. Roma is tied with The Favourite for the most nominations of the year, making it by some measures a de facto frontrunner for Best Picture.

All of which means that finally, Netflix has a chance to succeed where Amazon failed with Manchester by the Sea in 2017, and at last bring the much-coveted Best Picture honor to a streaming service.

Netflix worked hard for this nomination, spending a reported $25 million on its awards season campaign. (Roma itself cost just $15 million to make.) It far outspent other studios. “They’re the 800-pound gorilla,” one film publicist said of Netflix earlier this month. “It seems like they have unlimited resources.”

For Netflix to hang all its Oscars hopes on Roma makes a certain amount of sense. In many ways, the film has the kind of pedigree that the Oscars love. It has cleaned up on the awards circuit so far, including at big-deal award shows like the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards. Critics, by and large, have been ecstatic.

Plus, its director is already an Oscar favorite, having won Best Director for Gravity in 2014.

But in other ways, Roma is a dark horse to win the Oscar. It’s in Spanish, and no foreign-language film has ever won the Oscar for Best Picture. It’s a black-and-white art movie.

And perhaps most damningly, despite Roma’s brief theatrical run, it’s still very much a Netflix movie. And Netflix is the kind of industry disrupter that many fear will eventually make movie theaters obsolete, which means that the Academy is not exactly friendly territory for its films. Some Oscar voters are unlikely to offer their support to a company that they think is destroying the fabric of Hollywood.

Moreover, Hollywood’s old guard generally doesn’t consider Netflix to be the home of serious filmmaking. Last year, Steven Spielberg compared Netflix movies to TV movies and said that they shouldn’t be eligible for Oscars. “You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar,” he said. And in 2017, Christopher Nolan compared Netflix’s direct-to-streaming release model to the direct-to-video release model, which he called a “nightmare.”

With this Best Picture nomination, Netflix has at last earned a certain amount of respectability for its original films, a certain industry cachet. What remains to be seen is whether it has enough cachet to take home the prize.

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