Netflix’s first feature film takes on child soldiers in Africa, and stars Idris Elba

Destined for the big screen?
Destined for the big screen?
Image: Netflix via AP
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Having successfully upended the TV industry, Netflix is moving on to movies.

On the heels of television hits like House of Cards and Orange is The New Black, the online streaming company has decided to release its first feature film. The story, adapted from Nigerian-American Uzodinma Iweala’s bestseller and award-winning first novel Beasts of No Nation, is about a boy dragged into a civil war in an unspecified West African country.

There’s a lot of star power behind the venture. To be released in October, the film features The Wire‘s Idris Elba as a warlord and is directed by True Detective‘s Cary Fukunaga.

In true Netflix fashion, the company plans to make the film accessible to streaming customers during its theatrical release, rather than waiting the standard 90 days to transition the film from the big to small screen. That has cinema companies threatening to boycott showing the movie; AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Carmike all said they would not show the film.

The film’s producers, meanwhile, argue the simultaneous showings should boost turnout overall, since the subject matter isn’t really the stuff of box office hits. (The Economist describes the film as a mix between Peter Pan and Apocalypse Now.)

“It will definitely be seen by a lot more and different kinds of people through Netflix than it would have through a traditional platform,” Amy Kauffman, one of the film’s producers, told Variety. “It could be a game changer. This has the potential to change the way people perceive how movies and art are delivered to them.”

Some independent theaters are on board. The Alamo Drafthouse, for instance, promised to show the film at its 19 cinemas across Texas, New York, and California. “I’m agnostic about this sort of thing,” Tim League, the company’s CEO and founder, told Variety. “I look at films I want to play and I play them regardless of the release strategy.”

There’s at least one good reason for Netflix to court big theaters: Oscar nominations. At the Venice Film Festival earlier this month, Beasts of No Nation garnered positive reviews with some predicting Oscar nominations for Elba and newcomer Abraham Attah, who plays the child soldier. But to qualify for Oscar consideration a film has to be shown in “a commercial motion picture theater in Los Angeles County” for at least a week. Perhaps that’s why Netflix would want the film on the big screen at all.