Beasts of No Nation: Netflix as Industry’s Game Changer?

beasts_of_no_nation_5_fukunagaThe drama behind the scenes of Beasts of No Nation, Cary Fukunaga’s bold and troubling exploration of child soldiers in Africa may be just as interesting as the unsettling story that unfolds on screen.

Back in the spring some major US theater chains announced that they would boycott the release of the movie that Netflix bought for $12 million, because the new ambitious company is debuting the film simultaneously on its streaming service.  AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Carmike said they do not plan to show the drama because they do not want to provide screens to films that do not honor a 90-day window between theatrical debut and home entertainment release.

beasts_of_no_nation_4_elba_fukunagaNetflix said the its first original feature would have a qualifying run for Oscar consideration in “select theaters” later this year. Indeed, after playing in all three fall festuvals (Vebice, Telluride, Toronto), the film will bow theatrically in Landmark theaters in the US via the independent distributor Bleecker Street on October 16, the same day it debuts world-wide on Netflix.

Not everyone has a problem with the concept of simultaneous home entertainment and theatrical releases. The Alamo Drafthouse, an independent chain with 19 theaters in Texas and California, said it will screen the picture. Alamo Drafthouse had success showing “Snowpiercer,” even though that sci-fi adventure debuted on-demand while it was still in theaters.“Beasts of No Nation” could get exhibited at roughly 200 to 250 arthouse and independent theaters.

beasts_of_no_nation_3_fukunagaFukunaga’s success on the series “True Detective” made him a favorite with the artistic-minded viewers, not to mention the star power of Idris Elba, who plays the lead of a brutal, irrational, and unreliable warlord who recruits children,  who has an international fan base.

A triple threat, as writer-director-cinematographer is a major talent to watch.  Though he has made only three films, he already shows a strong personal perspective.  Centering on young protagonists, albeit of different backgrounds, his movies have displayed both thematic and stylistic consistencies.  Sin Nombre concerned central Americans who cross the Mexican borders to the U.S.  And his literary adaptation of the classic Jane Eyre is also about the tough life of a young orphan girl (played by Mia Wasikowska).  Beasts carries the theme to a more disturbing and violent level by depicting a boy who is deprived of normal childhood when he is forced to become a ruthless killer.

Like the acclaimed 2005 debut novel of the same name by Nigerian-American writer Uzodinma Iweala on which it is based, the film plays out its grim story in an unnamed country, as rebels without a known cause or affiliation ruthlessly attack the general populace, as well as government forces when they find them, on behalf of a Supreme Commander.

The film could have had a more traditional release plan. Netflix beat out specialty distributors, such as Focus and Fox Searchlight for rights to the picture because its backers felt that the company offered a larger audience for the film.

“This movie will have the muscle of Netflix behind it,” said Amy Kaufman, one of the producers. “It will be seen by a lot more and different kinds of people through Netflix than it would have through a traditional platform.”  The quality of Netflix shows and documentaries such, as “House of Cards” and “Virunga” (which was produced by Leonardo DiCaprio)  as well as TV programming like HBO’s “True Detective,” is altering people’s perceptions of where and how they view content. “It could be a game changer,” she said. “It could change the way people perceive how movies and art are delivered to them.”