Bong Joon Ho’s crossover hit, Parasite, received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Production on Monday, but not Best Foreign Language Film. It wasn’t a snub, but rather an Academy title change that many casual Oscar watchers may have missed: Parasite will compete for Best International Feature Film, the category formerly known as Best Foreign Language Film. That reclassification was announced last year.
“We have noted that the reference to ‘Foreign’ is outdated within the global filmmaking community,” International Feature Film Committee co-chairs, Larry Karaszewski and Diane Weyermann, said in a joint statement released by the Academy in April 2019. “We believe that International Feature Film better represents this category, and promotes a positive and inclusive view of filmmaking, and the art of film as a universal experience.”
Yet despite the stated push for inclusion, shifting the category’s name was something literally done in name only: the rules for Best International Feature Film match those established for Best Foreign Language Film, meaning the film’s language is key in determining its eligibility for a nomination, not its country of origin. As a result, international films predominantly in English are disqualified from the category — a previously established way to keep English-language movies produced by England or Canada or Australia from competing for a foreign-language Oscar.
This wouldn’t have been a problem except for the fact that it obviously was: In November, the Nigerian film Lionheart was barred from competing for the Best International Feature Film Oscar because its characters speak English, which happens to be the official language of Nigeria. (As Lionheart director Genevieve Nnaji wrote on Twitter at the time, “We did not choose who colonized us. As ever, this film and many like it, is proudly Nigerian.”)
2/2 It’s no different to how French connects communities in former French colonies. We did not choose who colonized us. As ever, this film and many like it, is proudly Nigerian. @TheAcademy https://t.co/LMfWDDNV3e
— Genevieve Nnaji MFR (@GenevieveNnaji1) November 4, 2019
Speaking to Deadline about the controversy, Weyermann admitted that the tweak was cosmetic — and the rules would likely be given another look in the future. “Now that it has come up, it is something we’ll discuss in the future. But I think they’re being conflated in a way that isn’t really accurate. So the title of the award was changed to be more inclusive and less sort of distancing,” she said, adding that “foreign,” in the context previously used by the Academy, “can have, particularly in this charged polarized world that we’re living in, it can have a polarized distancing negative connotation and as a global community of filmmakers and artists.”
She added, “This title change was really meant to reflect an inclusion and being part of the whole community.” (Except, it would seem, for Nigeria.)
Which brings us back to Parasite and the 2020 Oscar nominees in Best International Feature Film:
- Corpus Christi (Poland)
- Honeyland (North Macedonia)
- Les Misérables (France)
- Pain and Glory (Spain)
- Parasite (South Korea)
While Parasite is the odds-on favorite to win the Oscar here — and could become the first film in a foreign language to ever win Best Picture — there are a number of feel-good stories around this group of nominees, even while acknowledging that Mati Diop’s Atlantics (a Netflix release) was surprisingly snubbed. Honeyland, for instance, was also nominated in the Best Documentary Feature category, the first time one movie has ever received nominations in both categories. Pain and Glory, meanwhile, is the third Pedro Almodovar movie to receive a nomination in the category, but the first in 20 years — since Almodovar won for All About My Mother.
It’s a strong group of movies to christen the Best International Feature Film award — and if the Academy goes through with some tweaks to the rules, it represents a good launching pad for what could be a truly inclusive category going forward. As director Bong said while accepting the Best Foreign Language Film award from the unwoke Golden Globes, “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
Christopher Rosen is a writer and editor who lives in Maplewood, New Jersey and still thinks Lady Bird should have won best picture. Follow him on Twitter: @chrisjrosen
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