When logging into one’s Netflix account, and locating the discrete text entitled ‘International’, a plethora of global titles can be found – arguably more than are screened at local or regional cinemas each week.
With 100 million plus subscribers, it could be assumed that Netflix opens up the global film market to audiences around the world. However, it could also be argued that the US entertainment company is doing more harm than good due to the fact that their global cinema titles are actually very limited.
Since becoming a global film and television distributor, Netflix has increasingly presented a challenge to Hollywood due to the way it releases and markets film and television. The most recent example can be seen with Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. Set for release in 2018, the film will mark the arrival of Netflix’s first original big budget feature. It is a strong move in Netflix’s attempt to remain the giant in the ever-growing streaming world; however, these moves have Hollywood squirming.
If a streaming conglomerate can take a big name like Scorsese and make a successful film, then Hollywood could start to suffer huge losses at the box office. As Netflix continues to bring viewers on board for such original programming, a vast number of subscribers may be more inclined to stream for their own convenience, rather than to attend the cinema.
And herein lies the argument about Netflix audiences’ access (or lack thereof) to global cinema.
Mark Freeman, lecturer in screen studies at Swinburne University, says although global cinema has become more accessible because of Netflix, the company is “nowhere close to providing…breadth and depth of selection”. The simple existence of a series of global films on the site does not amount to diversity and range.
The company gains access to content from all around the world and uploads it to the site where it remains accessible to subscribers indefinitely. This means a film can find viewership months or even years after its release, as opposed to the fleeting opportunity for viewership offered by a theatrical release.
As Freeman points out, the streaming service should be praised for its ability to bring global cinema promptly to viewers, such as Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, which moved from its Cannes premiere to its place on Netflix in just over a month. Similarly, Netflix’s international subgenre of Asian cinema, offers many titles from Japan, China and Hong Kong that Hollywood rarely gives the same access to.
However, Netflix struggles to release a wide variety of international titles. As well as this, its representation of internationalism has caused controversy in recent times.
The company’s 2017 series Death Note, based on a Japanese Manga series, has come under scrutiny for its use of ‘whitewashing’, which is where a character of colour is replaced by a Caucasian character. In the case of Death Note, the Japanese villain Light Yagami has been rewritten as Light Turner and is being portrayed by American actor Nat Wolff. Though arguably bringing audiences to a world of Japanese culture, Netflix is running the risk of causing damage to an audience’s understanding of international cinema. Moreover, to whitewash seems potentially harmful in an industry where Asian actors already struggle to find roles in Hollywood.
The future of Netflix and global cinema may be continually growing, but whether the streaming service is the future of cinema is unclear. It could be said that the theatrical exhibition of films is still successful in its own right – especially for the blockbuster film. As for finding a place for global cinema to thrive, Netflix may still be some way off.