What Roma means for you, me and Soho

What Roma means for you, me and Soho

James Sandrini 4th March 2019

Roma, Alfonso Cuarón’s drama set in Mexico City, won the Golden Lion at the 75th Venice Film Festival and was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning three.

It was another Hollywood success. Except, it wasn’t.

Netflix has executed a ‘ladder up’ strategy, scaling a series of rungs that have propelled them from online DVD distributor, dispensing third-party videos, to the world’s dominant content creators. Netflix is due to spend $15bn on content this year alone.

Roma was only the 10th foreign-language film to be nominated for best picture ever. Repeat, ever.

The Academies unerring bias towards movies shot in their common tongue aside, there are rules in place that maintain the status quo, such as movies needing to be released in a commercial theatre in Los Angeles to qualify for the main feature film awards, which include best picture, best actress & actor and best supporting actress & actor.

Roma, alongside a few other critically acclaimed Oscar potentials, was released in commercial theatres for a few weeks at the back end of 2018; Netflix smiled and nodded just enough for the Oscars to accept their overtures.

And, just as Netflix played the game with the status quo of content before disarming them with their own production line – the subversion was rapid; they only began creating their own content in earnest in 2013 – so a pro-establishment supporter might justifiably be concerned that film will soon change forever.

Hollywood, for the few, is a neighbourhood in central LA. Hollywood, for the majority, is a hallmark. Even if an American studio physically located there, the association is undeniable: Hollywood is the home of Western cinema.

48.1 - Forty Eight Point One - Soho

Technology is fuelling globalisation. Not long ago, popular culture was homogenised by two pinch points in distribution: TV and print journalism. The advent of the internet, of myriad endpoints for discovery, of instantly served desires and fascinations however niche, has changed that. And changed the content & distribution landscapes with it.

Goodbye Top of the Pops; hello YouTube.

Technology has also stimulated our eternal addiction for convenience.

Goodbye dialling and talking and waiting more than 30 minutes for a takeaway; hello Deliver-Uber-mazon.

Film has remained one of the final bastions of delayed gratification and one-off captivation. We pay to leave our homes, to sit with strangers and to eat stale popcorn, when we could watch another movie on a smaller screen, at a lower definition, on our sofa. (Or, ya know, pirate the thing. I hear CouchTuner is great. The adverts are less so).

We pay and sit and eat and watch to experience our ration of Hollywood glitz.

So, what happens if Netflix produces and distributes more Oscar-winners on their streaming service within weeks of a cinematic release? What if they release it online at the same time? How long before Hollywood is no longer the centre of the motion picture universe and just another neighbourhood in central LA?

"A rightly-celebrated mess of grit and grandeur, of sex and sexuality"

Soho has long been the bohemian heartland of London.

Many would argue that this sensibility is being whittled away by the unintended consequences of tourism and the far more wanton assault on its rough edges by redevelopers, but W1B and W1C are still a haven for the non-conformists and the non-judgemental.

Like Hollywood, Soho is more than a part of a city. Soho is a reference for fashion and design and itself a home of theatre and film. It’s peak food & drink territory too.

More than any single virtue, Soho is a land of opportunity. A rightly-celebrated mess of grit and grandeur, of sex and sexuality. Soho means so much to so many because it was the fire that burned through their transformative years, whatever age they first descended upon its extraordinary, connecting streets.

Will Soho survive gentrification? Can a ‘Soho-ness’ exist outside the square mile? We’re about to find out.

48.1 - Forty Eight Point One - Soho

Just as technology has shifted what we watch and how we watch it, it’s also influenced our sense of identity.

As children, we’re part of a family. Then, our friendship group, or occupation, or sporting fraternity, or partner. And probably a sense of physical place: A neighbourhood, town, county or country.

Now, with the decentralisation of mediums, engines that help us find what we want (and plenty we don’t) in an instant and mass, shared communication, we’re part of a wider union.

We’re connected to our childhood friends and their experiences as they move away or travel the globe. We’re in a fellowship with those that share our passions, whether we’ve met them or otherwise, through message boards, apps and streaming platforms.

‘We’ has changed.

"We should all be uneasy at a rapidly changing world that is leaving many behind"

The bifurcation of national identity, underscored by the referendum and the exacerbated by the bellicose corners of each camp, has come to define modern politics, both at home and abroad. Identity politics is nothing new. Rarely has it been so all-consuming.

Let’s put aside what leavers and remainers want (not easy to do in any context) and focus on how to interpret their demands:

The portrayal of leavers presents them with a traditional view of identity, linear in nature, reaching back to their parents and ancestors, defined by where they were born and where they live and the world they’ve always known.

Remainers, by depiction and in direct contrast, offers a more horizontal approach, identifying with an extended troupe, based on their mutual interests or ideals or sense of humour rather than their location, and by their potential opportunities to meet these people beyond their current locale.

Such a battle is not fought on demographics alone – and we should all be uneasy at a rapidly changing world that is leaving many behind – but the resounding sentiment is clear: The old world of Hollywood, of Soho, of Britain and the British, is being replaced by a brave, new interconnected future that benefits those that look past traditional, static categorisation, and look forward to a digitised, interactive but undisclosed destination.

If Hollywood bows to Roma, then I can’t tell you where we’re going.