Golden Globes, ‘Minari’ and Cries of Racism: Read the Rules First

The Golden Globe Awards are an annual ceremony put on by the 93-member Hollywood Foreign Press Association since January 1944. In December, someone took exception to the classification of the Korean American film, “Minari,” in the Best Motion Picture-Foreign Language Film category and not the Best Motion Picture-Drama for the 78th Golden Globes. There seems to be a misunderstanding.

From the critical comments the issues are:

  • As an American film with American actors, “Minari” should be eligible for the Best Motion Picture-Drama category of the Golden Globes.
  • The Korean language dialogue should not make is ineligible for the Best Motion Picture-Drama category.
  • The Korean language spoken by Americans should circumvent the designation of foreign language. 
  • Racism is involved because a film with extensive use of European languages was previously in the Best Motion Picture-Drama category (e.g. “Inglorious Basterds” and “Babel”)
  • The HFPA forced “Minari” into the Best Motion Picture-Foreign Language. 

The choice of categories was not made by the HFPA.It is important to note that this is no longer a foreign film category.  Rule changes made in 1985 seems to be an effort to prevent English-languages films from dominating three categories by allowing one category to be specifically for foreign-language films.

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The accusations of racism do not seem to come from the production team of “Minari.” I’ve watched two different Q&A after screenings and this issue is not discussed. 

History

The Golden Globe has had the Best Motion Picture-Drama since 1943. Since 1951, it has another division, Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy. The Best Motion Picture-Foreign Language has been part of their awards since 1948, but it has undergone several changes in criteria. It is a mistake to think of either of these categories as being representative of the Best US Motion Picture.

The Best Foreign Film Conundrum

From 1965 to 1972, the category in question was Best Foreign Film-Foreign Language. From 1973 to 1985, the category was changed to Best Foreign Film, however, this change brought with it some problems. By foreign, this meant it was not a US production. Thus, Canadian films would fit in this category, even if they were in English such as the 1974 “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.” That film didn’t win, losing the Swedish “Scenes from a Marriage” (Ingmar Bergman’s Scener ur ett äktenskap). Also in that year were Fellini’s “Amarcord” (Italian) and Louis Malle’s “Lacombe, Lucien” (French).

The next year, the Canadian film “Lies My Father Told Me” won, but it was one of two English-language films in that category (the other was the UK’s “Hedda”). Bergman also had another film in the running, “The Magic Flute” (Trollflöjten) and two French films were also included “And Now My Love” (Toute une vie) and “Special Section” (Section spéciale). That year, the British-US film “Barry Lyndon” was in the Best Motion Picture-Drama. So British English language films were in two categories. 

There were years when English language films dominated the Foreign Film category. In 1980, the Roman Polanski British film, “Tess,” won, but also in the running were the Australian films “Breaker Morant” and “My Brilliant Career.” The rest of the films included France’s “The Last Metro” (Le dernier métro), Akira Kurosawa’s “Shadow Warrior” (影武者 / Kagemusha), and Yugoslavian “Special Treatment” (Poseban tretman). That year the Best Motion Picture-Drama category included the British-American film, “The Elephant Man.” 

In 1981, the British “Chariots of Fire” won the Foreign Film category, but it was one of three English-language films in that category: Louise Malle’s Canadian entry “Atlantic City” and Australia’s “Gallipoli.” The star of “Atlantic City” was not a Canadian. Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon were both born in New York.  

The 1982 winner was the English-language Indian film, “Gandhi,” which was entered along with the Australian “The Man from Snowy River.” Canada’s entry, “Quest for Fire,” had dialogue in an invented language. Best Motion Picture-Drama for that year included the British drama “The French Lieutenant’s Woman.” 

In 1983, the winner was the Swedish Bergman film, “Fanny and Alexander” (Fanny och Alexander), but also in the category were two British English-language films (“The Dresser” and “Educating Rita”) and the Canadian Western, “The Grey Fox.”

In 1984, the winner was a British film about India “A Passage to India.” German director Wim Wenders had an English-language film entered that same year, “Paris, Texas.” Wenders film was filmed in the US and featured American actors Harry Dean Stanton and Dean Stockwell with German actress Nastassja Kinski.  The film “Paris, Texas” was a foreign film because it was a German-French production. 

Best Motion Picture-Drama

What should also be noted is that even before 1973, British films had been awarded the Best Motion Picture-Drama. “The Bridge on the River Kwai” was a British-American production and won in 1957. “Lawrence of Arabia” was also a UK production, and won in 1962. The 1964 winner, “Becket” was another UK-US production. The UK-Italy production, “Dr. Zhivago,” won in 1965. The British “A Man for All Seasons” won in 1966 as did “Anne of the Thousand Years” in 1969.

In 1984, the British drama, “The Killing Fields,” lost to “Amadeus.” The languages in “The Killing Fields” were English, French and Kmer. 

In 1986, three British films made it into this category: “The Mission,” “Mona Lisa” and “A Room with a View.” Imagine if these three films had crowded out the 1986 Foreign category if it was still Foreign Film and not Foreign Language Film. 

British films were entered in this category in 1992 ( “Howard’s End”), 1998 (“Elizabeth”) and 2000 (“Billy Elliot”)(UK, “Elizabeth,” 1998). The Ireland-UK film (“In the Name of the Father”) in 1993.  “Eastern Promises” was a UK-Canada (2007). Other joint UK production include the UK-US “The Remains of the Day,” (1993), the UK-US “Sense and Sensibility” (1995), the UK-US “The English Patient” (1996),  the Denmark-UK “Breaking the Waves” (1996), the UK-US, “Gods and Monsters” (1998), the UK-US “The End of the Affair” (1999), and the UK-US “Finding Neverland” (2004). “The Crying Game” (1992) as a UK-Japan productionThese were English language films and not really US films. 

Australian films made this category in 1988 (“A Cry in the Dark”), 1996 (“Shine”) and 2015 (“Mad Max: Fury Road”).  

Increasingly, productions were bi-national or multi-national which would make any attempt to use the concept of an American Best Motion Picture category problematic if there was supposed to be a determination of nationality if the Best Motion Picture-Drama or the Best Motion Picture-Musical/Comedy was to be about the Best US film. 

The nations Germany, Austria, Hungary and Canada were behind”Sunshine,” which was in English and French (2000). 

“The Pianist” was in German and English (2002) but was a production of France, Germany, Poland and the UK. 

Best Motion Pictures-Musical or Comedy

In the Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy category, the British “Tom Jones” won in 1963. The British musical directed by Carol Reed, “Oliver!” won in 1968. The British “Hope and Glory” won in 1987. The Australian-US production, “Babe,” won in 1995. The French film, “The Artist,” won in 2011, but the category is dominated by US productions.

In both of the Best Motion Picture categories, British films won even when British films could be included in the Foreign Film category. Under the Best Foreign Film era, British films had a definite advantage. UK films could be entered in Best Motion Picture categories as well as the Foreign Film. Yet this also means the Best Motion Pictures in either Drama or Musical/Comedy have never been about the best US production. Instead, these categories seem to recognize the best mainstream films for the US market.

The mainstream market is predominately English-speaking. While it is true that the US does not have an official language based on a specific regional dialect like some nations (e.g. Japan), it is disingenuous to pretend that Korean as well as French and Spanish are not considered foreign languages in the USA and that university foreign language departments don’t include them under foreign language requirements or aren’t part of foreign language programs.  

Of the 93 members of the HFPA, some undoubtedly speak and read more than one language and not all of them are native speakers of English. That makes the accusations against the Golden Globes to be particularly specious. 

If the UK had the advantage before because films could enter the Foreign Film category, under the current Foreign Language policy, the losers would seem to be English-language Canadian and Australian films and not US films.

I have taken foreign language courses in Spanish in a region that has a high Latino population with people who speak Spanish at home. I was most recently taking a course in Korean where many of the participants also seemed to speak Korean at home. This is an advantage in college or on the job that have foreign language or bilingual requirements. That doesn’t change the nature of English as the language of instruction in most public schools and universities. Just by demographics and history, if any speakers of a non-English language should have a complaint about being included in the foreign category it should be Native Americans first, Spanish-speakers, second (particularly in California where Hollywood is) and French, third. Some films in the foreign language category did use Native American languages. 

The first US film to enter the Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language was the John Sayles’ “Men with Guns” in 1998. The languages listed are: Spanish, Mayan, Kuna (Panama and Columbia), Nahuatl (Central Mexico), Tzotzil (Maya people in the Mexican state of Chiapas) and English. The Canadian “The Red Violin” also was entered in this category and used English, French, German, Italian and Mandarin.

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was a Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and US production that was in the Foreign Language category (Mandarin Chinese) and won. In 2006, when the US production of “Letters from Iwo Jima” won (Japanese and English), it was one of two US production in that category along with Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” (Yucatec Maya). To my knowledge, the Mayan language would still be considered to the US because it had a limited range that did not include what is now the US. 

There was another film that, like “Minari” looked at Asian American lives, but also flashed back to an Asian country. Filmed using Dari, English and Urdu, “The Kite Runner,” looked at the lives of Afghan-American writer, Amir Qadiri, and his wife, Soraya, flashing back to the past in Pakistan. The US-produced film lost to another US production, the US-French production of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly “(Le scaphandre et le papillon).

What About…

Numerous articles have brought up the film 2009 film “Inglorious Basterds” which supposedly is only 30 percent English was entered in the Best Motion Picture-Drama.  I cannot trace back the source to this number. However, the choice of entering the film in that category was made by the film’s production team and if questions were raised, then according to the rules of the HFPA, a continuity script would be required. I’ve read the continuity script and it is all in English. Further, the subtitles read more like dialogue than translations. 

Monsieur LaPadite, I regret to inform 
you I've exhausted the extent of my
French. To continue to speak it so inadequately, would only serve to embarrass me. However, I've been lead to believe you speak English quite well?

Well, it just so happens, I do as well.
This being your house, I ask your
permission to switch to English, for the
remainder of the conversation?

While there is plenty emotional content in “Minari,” none of the dialogue is deeply psychological nor helps build the suspense of a cat-and-mouse game as is evident even in the subtitles of “Inglorious Basterds.” 

The 2017 “Call Me by Your Name,” was in Italian, English and French, but it is still a matter of percentage of dialogue. The lead actor, Armie Hammer is an American and Timothée Chalamet speaks both English and French. In 1987, “The Last Emperor” won (UK, Italy and China) and it was in English, Mandarin and Japanese. It competed with a UK-South Africa film “Cry Africa” which was in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu and Sesotho and starred American actors Denzel Washington and Kevin Kline.  “Slumdog Millionaire” won in 2008 and is a British Indian production in English and Hindi (starring British actor Dev Patel and Indian actress Freida Pinto). So films with non-European languages  have made this category. 

Another Best Motion Picture-Drama film that had a lot of non-English dialogue was Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s “Babel,” which won in 2006. The focus of “Babel” was an English-speaking couple played by American actor Brad Pitt and British actress Cate Blanchett and the languages used were English, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, Berber and Japanese Sign Language.  The theme of “Babel” is miscommunication and that seems particularly pertinent to the issues raised about “Minari.” 

“Babel” preceded “Inglourious Basterds” in the Best Motion Picture-Drama category and both the screenwriter and the director were born in Mexico. If they were to live in the United States, they would be considered an ethnic minority: Hispanic/Latino. Latinos are according to a recent Nielsen study, under-represented on television relative to their population in both the US and in Los Angeles County. Further, Latinos were under-represented in the Golden Globe nominations

“Life of Pi” had dialogue in English, Hindi and French. “Life of Pi” is a multi-nation production (US, UK, Canada, Australia, Taiwan and India) and features dialogue in English Hindi and French. This film starred a relatively unknown Indian actor, Suraj Sharma.

Last year’s winner, “1917,” was not about the US and did not star US nationals. It was about two British soldiers in Europe and starred two British actors: George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman. The year before, a US-UK joint production won, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” That film as well was not about the US. It was about a British rock group, Queen, and starred Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek as Parsi British Freddie Mercury.

The Best Motion Picture-Drama and the Best Motion Picture-Musical/Comedy has never placed an emphasis on US stories or US actors as part of its criteria. 

Minari

“Minari” is in the Foreign Language category along with over a hundred other films, including 37 directed or co-directed by women. Altogether, 77 countries are represented.  “Tigertail” is also about an Asian American family. 

From the US:

  • Effigy: Poison and theCity (Udo Flohr, Germany/USA)
  • Family Romance, LLC (Werner Herzog, USA)
  • Harami (Shyam Madiraju, India/US)
  • I Carry You With Me (Heidi Ewing, Mexico/US)
  • I’m No Longer Here (Fernando Frías de la Parra, Mexico/US)
  • Lucky Grandma (Sasie Sealy)
  • Minari (Lee Isaac Chung)
  • The Night (Kourosh Ahari, USA/Iran)
  • Show Me What You Got (Svetlana Cvetko)
  • Tigertail (Alan Yang)
  • The Vigil (Keith Thomas)
  • Your Iron Lady (USA, Mexico)

From Asia:

  • 200 Meters (Ameen Nayfeh, Jordan)
  • 2000 Songs of Farida (Yalkin Tuychiev, Uzbekistan)
  • Asia (Ruthy Prisar, Israel)
  • Asuran (Vetri Maaran, India)
  • Better Days (Derek Tsang as Kwok Cheung Tsang, China/Hong Kong)
  • Between Heaven and Earth (Najwa Najjar, Palestine)
  • Black Milk (Uisenma Borchu, Mongolia/Germany)
  • Broken Keys (Jimmy Keyrouz, Lebanon)
  • C Section (David Oryan, Lebanon)
  • Concubine of Shanghai (Sherwood Hu, China)
  • The Crying Steppe (Marina Kunarova, Kazakhstan)
  • A Dark, Dark Man (Adilkhan Yerzhanov, Kazakhstan)
  • The Disciple (Chaitanya Tamhane, India)
  • Eeb Allay Ooo! (Prateek Vats, India)
  • The Eight Hundred (Hu Guan, China)
  • The Fight Continues (Carlo Ortega Cuevas, Philippines)
  • Impetigore (Joko Anwar, Indonesia/South Korea)
  • Jallikattu (Lijo Jose Pellissery, India)
  • Just Like That (Kislay, India) 
  • Leap (Peter Ho-Sun Chan, China)
  • Ludo (Anurag Basu, India)
  • Made in Bangladesh (Rubaiyat Hossain, Bangladesh/France/Bangladesh/Denmark/Portugal)
  • The Man Standing Next (Min-ho Woo, South Korea)
  • Miracle in Cel #7 (7. Koğuştaki Mucize) (Mehmet Ada Özteki, Turkey)
  • Mosul (Matthew Michael Carnahan, Iraq)
  • Paramapatham (Thanesh Perrabu, Malaysia)
  • The Real Exorcist (Shokyo Oda, Japan)
  • Snake White: Love Endures (Xian Feng Zhang, China)
  • Soorarai Pottru (Sudha Kongara, India)
  • A Sun (Mong-Hong Chung, Taiwan)
  • Sun Children (Majid Majidi, Iran)
  • Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior (Om Raut, India)
  • There is No Evil (Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran)
  • Trees Under The Sun (Bijukumar Damodaran, India)
  • True Mothers (Naomi Kawase, Japan)
  • The Truth (Hirokazu Koreeda, Japan)
  • Twiceborn (Hiroshi Akabane, Japan)
  • Twilight’s Kiss (Ray Yeung, Hong Kong)
  • Under the Open Sky (Miwa Nishikawa, Japan)
  • The Wastland (Ahmad Bahram, Iran)
  • Wet Season (Anthony Chen, Singapore, Taiwan)
  • Write About Love (Cristano B. Aquino, Philippines)

From Canada:

  • Funny Boy (Deepa Mehta, Canada)
  • Night of Kings (Philippe Lacôte, France/Côte d’Ivoire/Canada/Senegal)
  • The Endless Trench (Aitor Arregi | Jon Garaño | Jose Mari Goenaga, Spain/France’Canada)

From Australia:

  • Alice (Chris Mitchell-Clare, France/Australia)

“Minari” did make the final cut. The nomination are:  “Another Round” (Samuel Goldwyn Films) which is in Danish and Swedish;  “La Llorona” (Shudder) which is in Spanish,  Mayan-Caqchickel and Mayan-Ixil; “The Life Ahead” (Netflix) which is in Italian; “Minari” (A24) which is in Korean and English and “Two of Us” (Magnolia Pictures) which is in French and German. 

My overall impression is that as the category currently stands, the Foreign Language category helps boosts films from the US and elsewhere in the foreign language market. Because of the designation change, smaller English language films from Canada, New Zealand and Australia have suffered, however, a film like “The Farewell” had its profile lifted. “The Farewell” was not nominated for an Academy Awards and it was not nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award. 

For the most part, the protests surrounding “Minari” seem to be battles being fought when a war has not been declared. The Golden Globes could change the category to be “Non-English” in a manner similar to the BAFTA (Best Film Not in the English Language), a change made from Best Foreign Language Film that was made in 1990, yet this would not resolve the problem.

The real question is: Could “The Farewell” have competed against “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” the film that won the Best Motion Picture – Musical/Comedy. Tarantino’s film competed against “Dolemite Is My Name,” “Jojo Rabbit”, “Knives Out” and “Rocketman.” Of this group, only “Dolemite Is My Name” didn’t receive Oscar nominations. 

I can see how Spanish might not seem like a foreign language in a place named Los Angeles and if there was a film nominated in an indigenous language such as Navajo or in one of the 80-odd  different languages were spoken within the boundaries of what is now the state of California over two centuries ago, but I don’t see the value of this fight because of the Korean language. Nor do I see a reason to assert that the HFPA is racist. 

I do see how the category has benefited both “The Farewell” and “Minari.” There are other points which I address in the other essays, but overall, I do not see reasonable arguments being made for changing the category or for fighting a battle that the cast and crew of “Minari” are not participating in. If one really feels an institute is racist, then why support it by entering at all. What is hard to determine is whether the controversy has helped or hurt “Minari.” 

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