Commentary: There’s nothing ‘foreign’ about Minari

In her commentary, managing editor Jasmine Gidney explains how Korean American film Minari deserves more than a best foreign-language nomination. (Submitted: A24)

Minari is about the American dream, yet is too Korean for the Golden Globes to consider the film for best drama picture. 

Lee Isaac Chung is a Korean-American who wrote and directed the film and former The Walking Dead star Steven Yeun plays the lead role of Jacob. American film studios A24 and Plan B Entertainment also backed the film. But even with its American background, the Golden Globes barred Minari from the best drama picture category and instead nominated it for best foreign-language film.

The reason? Less than 50 per cent of Minari is in English. The primary language is Korean,  making it a “foreign” film.

Yet, language isn’t a problem for some other films.

The Golden Globes nominated Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds for best drama picture in 2010. The film was roughly 30 per cent English, the rest was in French, German and Italian.

But when it came to The Farewell, a film that was also about 30 per cent English, the Golden Globes nominated it for best foreign-language picture. The other 70 per cent of the film was in Mandarin.

Nominating Inglourious Basterds for best picture drama and not The Farewell or Minari shows that language was never a barrier, race was. French, German and Italian were all acceptable languages, but not Mandarin or Korean.

Language shouldn’t determine what makes a film foreign.

Asian Americans are one of the fastest-growing populations in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center. With more than 20.4 million Asian Americans living in the country in 2017, Mandarin and Korean shouldn’t be considered “foreign” languages.

The best foreign-language film category is a way for the Golden Globes to separate predominantly white filmmakers from filmmakers of colour. If the Golden Globes were serious about separating international and domestic films, they wouldn’t have nominated 1917 for best drama picture last year since it’s a British film and technically considered “foreign.”

The feeling of alienation isn’t new to Asians living in North America. Even though the U.S. and Canada are multicultural countries, anyone who isn’t white or white-passing is seen as an immigrant. Almost everyone I meet assumes I’m an international student because I’m Chinese. Because of my skin and eyes, I’m not Canadian enough.

What the Golden Globes did to Minari was slam the door in its face and say the film wasn’t American enough. Nominating Minari for best foreign-language film enforces the idea that Asians in North America are always foreigners, no matter if they were raised there.

The Golden Globes and other award shows need to re-evaluate what it means to be “foreign.” Is it the language? Production team? Writers? Directors? Actors? Location? With the growing diversity in Hollywood, the idea of a “foreign” movie is outdated.

Eliminating the foreign language category and including these films into the other categories are the first steps towards true inclusivity. The category is demeaning and undercuts the brilliance of the films.

Aside from Parasite, how many people can name a best foreign-language film winner? Even if Minari wins, the best drama picture will overshadow the film and, like in previous years, the general public will dismiss Minari as just another “foreign” film, even when that’s not true.

Language and race shouldn’t be considered when it comes to what makes a film great. What makes a film great is the raw passion in the writing, acting, directing and all the production behind the scenes.

Minari deserves more than a best foreign-language nomination. Asian American films are still American and they deserve the same attention and opportunity as white, Hollywood films in English.