Netflix is winning Oscars
Usually, if someone has a blacklist, I like to be on it. That’s just the kind of person I am. So, when I found out that “The Square,” which the Academy has nominated for best documentary, has been banned in Egypt, I didn’t even bother to make popcorn first.
The director is Egyptian-American Jehane Noujaim and, in collaboration with Netflix, she has laid out the events of the Egyptian Revolution that began in 2011 and which, I think, has more or less ended with a return to the status quo ante bellum. The French, Russian, Chinese and Iranian revolutions all went from one-man rule to chaos and back to one-man rule. Egypt is heading in the same sad direction.
Noujaim tells the story using a few real people as characters and traces their actions and the effects of the revolutionary violence on them. Ahmed Hassan went to Tahrir Square just as things were heating up there, and he is simply fearless. He’s the kind of guy you want in a foxhole with you.
Khalid Abdalla, whom you may know from “The Kite Runner,” grew up in an Egyptian family dedicated to political change — both his father and grandfather were jailed for trying to improve their country. He shines as an articulate spokesman for the Egyptian Everyman, and he makes you feel his frustrations as well as just telling you about them.
Magdy Ashour, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, hits the screen saying, “I never imagined that I would be here, fighting for change among such a diverse group of people.” You see him evolve through the film as he gets to know people who don’t think like he does but who want an end to what he hates — the military dictatorship.
What impresses the most is just how bold the making of the film was. Somehow, she got cameras into the very places the authorities didn’t want cameras. She and her crew were detained, threatened and shot at to make this movie.
I haven’t seen the other films nominated in the category, so any prediction as to whether “The Square” will win an Oscar would be inappropriate. What I can say is that it certainly deserves the Academy’s consideration.
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Furthermore, I can foresee this film making Netflix a serious producer of movies. Back in 2012, Netflix went beyond just providing video to producing it with “Lilyhammer.” This is a brilliant series with Steven Van Zandt about a gangster who enters the witness protection program — the twist is he wants to go to Norway to hide and, of course, culture clashes ensue. What really put Netflix on the map with its video, though, was the critically acclaimed “Orange Is the New Black” about a women’s prison. I truly enjoyed the first season, and I am looking forward to the second.
If “The Square” were to take home the Oscar, Netflix will certainly have positioned itself where HBO was several years ago, as a new source of creative video. Even if another film wins, the very fact that Netflix is playing at this level is significant.
Amazon offers a service called Amazon Prime, which consists of free shipping, the right to borrow an ebook once a month, and streaming video — clearly a move into the Netflix market. If Netflix as a movie studio takes off, could Amazon Films be far behind? If I were head of Warner Bros. or United Artists, I’d be concerned.