It’s a meme come true for Rihanna
Netflix continues to change the game with a new project based on a viral Rihanna and Lupita Nyong’o photo
Help me out with an analogy here. The California Gold Rush of 1849 might work. The OPEC oil boom of the 1970s makes sense too. The folk behind the mighty Netflix – which vomits money as the wells of the UAE once vomited oil – are not spending that loot on hotels in Mayfair or mansions on Nob Hill. They are spending it on content and they are doing so with a mad abandon never seen before in the industry. They are the new disruptors.
Nothing has made this quite so apparent as the scarcely believable tale of how a tweet is set to become a major movie. In April, a Tumblr user posted a photograph of Rihanna and Lupita Nyong’o in the front row of a 2014 fashion show. “Rihanna looks like she scams rich white men and lupita is the computer smart best friend that helps plan,” the text read. The post found its way to Twitter and went viral, and other users began fantasising about a film along these lines. More than a few proposed Ava DuVernay, the director of Selma, as the ideal person to get behind the camera.
The idea was pitched at last week’s Cannes Film Festival, and Netflix – whose pockets are beyond voluminous – handed across another huge bag of dough. Fashion Scam could be with us as soon as next year. Movies have been adapted from toys, songs, video games and magazine articles. This is the first known instance of a film being adapted from an internet meme.
Seven layers of havoc
Netflix have no respect for existing models. Even before the news about the Twitter film emerged, the company had caused seven layers of havoc in Cannes. They had two films in the competition. When it emerged that those films wouldn’t go into French cinemas, the festival banned such entries in future years. Pedro Almodóvar, president of the Jury, essentially said that he wouldn’t allow either film to win in 2017 (sure enough, no prizes went the way of either The Meyerowitz Stories or Okja). Netflix shrugged and moved on. Stock is up and the company is now valued at more than $70 billion.
The California Gold Rush is probably the better example. Rather than buying up existing cities, Netflix is building its own structures in the fertile frontier soil. Remember how odd it seemed when House of Cards, the company’s first big series, arrived all in one great lump? Telly was still expected to be tied to a staggered broadcast schedule. Netflix gave it to us all at once. It was very free. It was very American.
When will the gold rush end? Failure doesn’t mean what it
The 2014 photo of Rihanna and Lupita Nyong’o
used to. We don’t see ratings. So we don’t know what’s doing well and what’s doing badly. We assume that Baz Luhrmann’s militantly appalling hip-hop saga The Get Down is doing badly because it just got cancelled. We assume The Crown – which costs more to run than the real royal family – is doing well because it is scheduled to run until the 23rd century.
Eventually, something still unexpected and unprecedented will cut the digital ground from under Netflix feet. If I knew what it was, I’d be constructing it myself. For now, can I interest you in a sitcom based on this tweet featuring my cat in a waistcoat?