I was getting into my car after riding the bus back from the Beverly Hilton–site of the Golden Globes–to Century City when the Variety Breaking News email popped up and announced that “Alfonso Cuarón Rips Journalist at Golden Globes for ‘Unfair’ Netflix Question.” That’s not what I heard backstage.
Of the four questions in English that time allowed backstage, two were about Netflix. Cuarón was first asked about if this second win or the first win (for “Gravity” in 2014) was more meaningful. He felt, “This is more meaningful because it is a Mexican film, a Spanish drama” and because it was in black and white and “also about a character who has been invisible in cinema and society.”
The third question was about the polarizing effect of the movie to Cuarón replied:
I am just very glad it is creating discussions. The polarization is something that is part of the nature of any trade and endeavor, particularly in our — probably one of the things I am the proudest of is the organizations that are taking films as platforms, like the alliance worker alliance — the Domestic Workers Alliance are taking Roma as a platform for their movement. We are talking about the character.
This is an indigenous worker from a poor background. These are the characters that are in the front — forefront in my film, but we keep them in the background in society. So I like the discussion that is being created. It is also exposing a very pathological behaviors from some sectors of society.
I am very, very, very happy of the representation the movie is having in different mainstream outlets that they are pretty much reserved for certain models that they don’t respond to — frankly, to that in America, but sometimes to the world at large.
The first Netflix question assumed that Cuarón was in conflict with Netflix’s strategy: “A lot of discussion has been had about Netflix’s effort to release this film theatrically. I know you expressed disappointment and unwillingness to do that. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about what Netflix did with the rollout of this movie and if you would want to do another film with them?”
I am not upset with Netflix. It is not that they didn’t want to release the film, just the situation that the current market has for foreign speaking film and black and white and networking.
The fact that it is Mexican and Spanish and black and white was never even mentioned. Everything was going to the core of what this film is about.
I feel so grateful. They are amazing. They brought this film to the world. But also in the theatrical work, I have had a greater theatrical rollout than if I had gone the conventional way. This is a dream come true. It is something I wasn’t expecting.
The second Netflix question by a reporter was: “Building on the whole theatrical distribution versus Netflix, there are some independent distributors [who feel] that the success of “Roma” says this is the death of independent cinema. That basically the message that’s being sent is that a theatrical release for an awards contender is no longer needed. You just need to do a limited play with Netflix and then you go to streaming and forget all the aggravation and whether it is low grossing or not. What’s your take on this?”
Cuarón responded with a question of his own.
My question to you is: How many theaters did you think a Mexican film in black and white in Spanish and Mixtec without stars, how big a release do you think it would be in a conventional theatrical release?
I had a great bigger theatrical release than that, by the way, way bigger. Still playing. It was not a cinematic release. To this day, it opened a month ago, and it is still playing. That is rare for a foreign film. I think that is unfair to say that. Why don’t you take the foreign films released this year and compare them, see how many that are played in 70 mill. See the territories in which this film is playing. I don’t think so.
I hope the discussion between Netflix and platforms in general, theatrical should be over. I think platforms and theatrical should go together and just realize whatever they are doing with discussion, it is cinema. More important, they can create diversity in cinema. Theatrical experience has become very gentrified to one specific kind of product.
You have all these filmmakers, interesting filmmakers doing films with different platforms because those platforms are not afraid of doing those films. And like “Roma,” I hope that many others will have a theatrical release and greater releases than I have. This is a foreign film in Spanish and black and white. Some other movie, some films, interested filmmakers with stars, hey, my God, next year I think is coming.”
My impression was not that Cuarón was angry or giving a sharp reply. He seemed a bit exasperated by the question, as if the film was being taken out of context, and he emphasized that “Roma” was a specialized film. Not only was it in a foreign language (Spanish), but it was also in black and white. While that might be less a problem in Los Angeles County which has a population that is about 41 percent Latino (of any race), but in other areas lower Latino populations may mean the movie would largely be unavailable in a movie theater due to lack of general interest in Spanish-language movies. Both of those aspects were likely to turn away general audiences and make for a limited run in some areas of the US and internationally. As someone who formerly had to rush across town, driving an hour or more, just to see a foreign language movie (e.g. Carlos Saura’s “Tango”) in a theater during a one week run, availability on Netflix allows me to see movies that I might otherwise miss due to geography or time constraints, even in Los Angeles.