Minari and the Issue of Foreign Language Film Categories

Gavin Clingham, Staff Writer

For a while, the Golden Globes consistently took the coveted prize of the generally most enjoyable award show within the season, but this year things didn’t go so well. When the Golden Globe nominations came out, there was praise for some historic nominations but soon enough, viewers began to see some mishaps in the nominations. One of the biggest arguments was that the show I May Destroy You was snubbed. The show spoke to serious issues and meant so much to a wide audience. So you could imagine the wide surprise and anger when Music was given a best picture nomination. It was labeled to many as ableist and the nomination caused more outrage for the film. Then to make things worse, Emily in Paris, the show that was labeled offensive to Parisian culture, was given a best comedy series nomination. Then the Golden Globes announced a nomination to the critically-acclaimed film Minari but only put it in the category of Best Foreign Language Film. This sparked outrage to the fact that it was only limited in this singular category that doesn’t quite fit the film. 

This seemed to be a repeat of last year in which Parasite was only limited to Best Foreign Language Film. While I intend to leave my opinion as far out of this article as much as I can, I believe that that is simply unfair. Despite deserving a shot at more awards, the film itself was deemed fitting for this label and this label alone because most of the lines (other than a few lines in English) are in Korean. Minari is a slightly more confusing case because it is actually an American-made film but a greater portion of the film is not in English.

So one of the reasons behind this nomination was that it did not meet a policy that the HFPA (Hollywood Foreign Press Association) has. Believe it or not, they have a policy saying that a film must have 50% of the dialogue in English which the film was said to not meet. This may seem to resolve the Minari question at first glance, but the 2010 Golden Globes presents a very important case. Inglourious Basterds is a film featuring dialogue that was 30% English and 70% was a mix of French, German, and Italian. This would’ve put the film in best foreign language film but Inglourious Basterds was nominated for Best Drama at the Golden Globes AND Best Picture at the Oscars. At the time there wasn’t even a mention of the film being considered a foreign language film or talk about the film not being eligible for the Best Drama at the Golden Globes.

Even though there hasn’t been change for the Golden Globes, the Oscars seems to have made things better for these films. They changed their longstanding foreign language film category to “Best International Film.” This would no longer qualify a film by what language it was in but by where it came from. Minari would be shunned from this category because it is an American \-made film that is mostly in Korean. However while it is nominated in multiple categories, last year’s film The Farewell didn’t get so lucky. The Farewell, like Minari, was American-made and mostly in another language. The category “Best International Film” was first introduced last year so this sadly gave The Farewell nowhere to go in the nominations list. 

Another ironic thing about the nomination is that Minari is based in and about the assimilation to America. The director, Lee Isaac Chung, wanted to tell a true and realistic story of how American families get by every day. He ended up fearing many times that he would have to make the film fully in English in order to get people to see it so he actually made a version of the script in English. He was then convinced to keep most of the film’s dialogue in Korean. Luckily, the film is now nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars along with a few acting nominations for the main cast. 

This problem will sadly not go away easily. However, this has been the most diverse year for the Oscars and hopefully next year can become the most diverse year for the Golden Globes. It’s a tricky issue that’s offered many questions about what really falls under the category of a “foreign language film.” It’s likely to now become more widespread to accept only internationally-made movies and classify the best picture by the true quality of the film whether it is in English or not.