Since the moment that Bong Joon Ho implored the audience at the 2020 Golden Globes to overcome the "one inch barrier" of subtitles, the debate over foreign-language films during awards season has been argued with renewed vigour. Joon Ho went on to sweep the Oscars, winning best picture, best director and best original screenplay in the ceremony he once shrugged off as being "very local".
Parasite's win was heralded as a landmark moment for foreign-language cinema, coming in the same year that the category for such films at the Oscars was renamed the best international film award. Meanwhile everyone's favourite awards season villain the Golden Globes are still refusing to nominate films which are not at least 50 per cent in English for their major awards. This was especially galling this year when Minari was overlooked despite being written and directed by an American filmmaker, set in America, with an American lead actor and coming from American production company A24.
Today, with the announcement of the 2021 Oscar nominations, the path for Lee Isaac Chung's Minari to follow in Parasite's footsteps could well be being laid, with Minari sitting on six nominations, the same number which Parasite went into the 2020 ceremony with. That includes a best picture nod. Mank might lead the way with ten nominations, but remember that 2020's frontrunner was Joker, a film which only ended up winning for Joaquin Phoenix's performance. Minari has even triumphed where Parasite fell short, with two of its cast members nominated in the acting categories in a long overdue recognition of Asian and Asian–American actors.
Many are wondering whether Minari can pull a Parasite, with the question of whether it can succeed at the Oscars being seen by some as a kind of litmus test on how xenophobic The Academy is. Everyone was surprised when Parasite took the top prize home last year, but are they willing to give it to a film not in English again?
Yet the question of whether it will follow in Parasite's footsteps speaks to the way in which we group films in the same foreign language together as a kind of other. Lee Isaac Chung's fable of a Korean-American family could not be further away from the social satire Parasite tonally, and yet the long history of keeping non-English movies in a box of their own means that we immediately connect these two Korean films.
Minari is about who we see as American, with the young children telling their Korean grandmother she isn't "a real grandma" because she doesn't bake cookies, while she in turn laughs them off as being stupid American kids. It is about a family who feel both at home and like outsiders in America, and the ways these two ideas are constantly ebbing and flowing within them.
"Human being are always butting up against categories and stereotypes," Chung told Esquire earlier this month. "That was part of the fun of this story: looking for moments of nuance in which the characters don't quite fit in what we would expect of them." He also spoke of how Minari "is not taking on the point of view of a family who is desperately trying to become American", but instead it is about some of the human lives chasing after the American dream.
Just like the film itself, the Oscar story around Minari is about who we see as American and who we do not. Regardless of what it wins, it has highlighted the importance of not judging things on how they appear.
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