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The Golden Globes Are Calling Minari, an American Movie About Americans, a Foreign Film Because It’s Mostly in Korean

This is racist.

A korean family stand surrounded by white people in a church in minari

Lee Isaac Chung’s already much-acclaimed film, Minari, is an American movie. It was made in America and tells an American story based on Chung’s own childhood growing up the son of Korean immigrants in rural Arkansas. Its star, Steven Yeun, is an American. And yet, because the film is predominantly in Korean, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which administers the Golden Globes, has decided it is a foreign film. This is racist, insulting, and absurd.

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The Golden Globes, most everyone knows, are not a terribly legitimate awards show. They are doled out by the Hollywood Foreign Press, an organization that no one really knows anything about, that puts on a big award-show party every year. They are a small group of foreign journalists that must live in Southern California and that’s about it. They aren’t necessarily an organization with integrity or a good track record when it comes to what they nominate in various categories.

The people behind the Globes tend to nominate movies with big stars so they can get big names to attend the Golden Globes. For instance, the terrible movie The Tourist was nominated for multiple awards pretty much because the HFPA wanted Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp at their show. And that kind of shenanigans can be expected, but the outright racism of calling an American movie “foreign” because it contains mainly Korean dialogue is unacceptable.

This isn’t even the first time the Globes have pulled this kind of nonsense with “foreign” films. In 1982, the winner of the trophy for “best foreign film” went to a movie from “India” … Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. Yup. A few years later, the Globes changed the award name to “Best Foreign Language Film” but that didn’t stop the ridiculousness.

In 2006 the winner of the prize was Letters from Iwo Jima by legendary Japanese director … Clint Eastwood? Iwo Jima competed against another not-so-foreign film: Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. Last year, Lulu Wang’s The Farewell also was considered a foreign film simply because it was mainly not in English.

All of these classifying of films as “foreign language” that happen to be in another language, or even in the case of Gandhi, just set in another country, is very silly. But the decision to call Minari a foreign film is worse. It’s a movie about the American experience, about an immigrant experience. By calling this fully American film “foreign” simply because of the language it is in reinforces prejudice, racism, and the idea that those who do not speak English are somehow less American. This is incredibly ironic when you consider that this decision comes from a group of non-citizens living and working in America. But that’s what makes this so clearly racist, as the HFPA is mainly white.

Especially for Asian actors and creators, this decision is infuriating and insulting.

I have no hope that the HFPA will change this decision, because the machinations of who and which films compete where for what is more about “this film will win here and it will look good” than it is about integrity, inclusion, and film craft.

The Golden Globes are about publicity but even so, this is bad publicity coming in a year when everyone is tired of enduring institutional racism. We’ll see if the Globes amend this, but if nothing else, this can bring attention to a truly important movie, Minari, that I hope will be competing in the correct category for the Oscars.

(via: Variety, image: A24)

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Jessica Mason
Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.

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