Once considered the upstarts of the entertainment world, Netflix is now firmly ensconced in the upper echelons of that same industry. It’s triggered a sea change in the way we ‘binge’ watch, and championed diverse casting and storytelling, all while bringing us series that are genuinely compulsive – and picking up a clutch of awards along the way.
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Included in that haul is just one Oscar – that most ‘establishment’ of accolades – won for documentary short The White Helmets back in February. The doc, which follows a group of Syrian rescue workers fighting to rescue civilians from bomb wreckage, was a timely and worthy winner. But while the film marked Netflix’s first little gold man, it’s certainly not the only time that the streaming service has made a play for the Academy Awards. Instead, Netflix’s Oscar history is one of snubs, snubs and more snubs: remember when the Idris Elba-starring Beasts Of No Nation (also the focus of #oscarssowhite diversity row) failed to receive a single nomination back in 2016? Manchester by the Sea, an Amazon film, may have bucked the trend this year with a Best Actor win for Casey Affleck, but the Oscars seem loth to dole out the prizes in the ‘bigger’ (read: headline-making) categories to streamers. It seems that there’s still a residual snobbery lurking around films that by-pass theatres to land directly in our homes - and that a Netflix film has to work doubly hard to earn the attention of the notoriously slow-to-adapt Academy.
This is where Mudbound comes in. When it made its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Dee Rees’ latest film was hailed as a new - and timely - American epic. Starring Carey Mulligan, Mary J. Blige (for it is she!) and Garrett Hedlund, it weaves together the stories of two Mississippi families in the aftermath of World War Two, one white, one black, as they struggle against both an unrelenting landscape and the deep inequalities of a divided American South. Despite universal rave reviews, it struggled to find a distributor at the festival – until Netflix stepped in with $12.5 million.
This can’t help but feel like a bold but calculated move on their part, though Netflix would’ve been hard pressed to predict the pressure-cooker of tensions into which Mudbound will eventually arrive. Post-Charlottesville, the explosion of white supremacy into the mainstream is a major cause for concern: Rees’ film, set in the Jim Crow era of segregation with the KKK on the rise, will certainly present painful parallels. Timeliness aside, its newly-dropped trailer promises enough traditional Oscar-bait to make Academy voters sit up: there’s sweeping cinematography, a former Best Actress nominee in Carey Mulligan and (according to reviews) a game-changing performance from Mary J. Blige in her first major film role.
A Netflix 'Best Picture' nomination isn't the only way in which Mudbound could make its mark on history, either. Should Rees earn a nomination for Best Director, she'd be the first ever black woman to do so. To date, just four female directors have been Oscar nominated, though only one of them, Kathryn Bigelow (whose latest film Detroit also deals with a painfully resonant episode in American race relations) has won. With a new initiative to make the Academy more representative (read: less old, white and male) in full swing, here's hoping that 2018 could be her year.
Watch the latest trailer for Mudbound below...
Mudbound will launch on Netflix and in select theatres on Friday, November 17th
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