Heading in to the Christmas break, there are growing tensions about the Golden Globes categorization of Minari, one of the year’s most acclaimed films and a top contender for best-of-the-year awards.
It began with a Variety report on Tuesday which mentioned that Minari, as a film that is not at least 50 percent in the English language (it is predominantly in Korean), would not be eligible for one of the two best picture Globes, but would instead contend for the best foreign language film Globe, while remaining in the running for nominations in all other categories.
Several prominent industry figures — among them Lulu Wang, whose film The Farewell was categorized the same way last year, Daniel Dae Kim and Franklin Leonard — took issue with any implication that Minari is “foreign,” given that it was financed and distributed by American companies (Plan B and A24, respectively); written and directed by an American filmmaker (Lee Isaac Chung, the Denver-born son of Korean immigrants whose move inspired the film); and chronicles the experience of Koreans who immigrate to America, where it also was shot and is set (and where nearly 20 percent of households speak a language other than English).
But the fact is that the Globes’ category in question is not called best foreign film, but rather best foreign language film, and the rules of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the group of LA-based journalists for foreign media outlets which presides over the Globes, unequivocally state that any film with at least 50 percent non-English dialogue must compete for that award rather than for best picture.
Numerous other major awards contenders of yesteryear have competed in the foreign language Globes category and still gone on to best picture Oscar nominations, including, in just the first two decades of the 21st century, 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2006’s Letters from Iwo Jima, 2012’s Amour, 2018’s Roma and 2019’s Parasite.
But those who say that Minari is being slighted have suggested that at least two other 21st century films that did not meet the 50 percent English-language threshold were nevertheless submitted — and nominated — in one of the best picture categories: 2006’s Babel (which actually won the drama category) and 2009’s Inglourious Basterds. Some have questioned the disparity between Minari and those two films, which had casts that included A-list white stars.
People familiar with Babel‘s awards campaign and with the HFPA’s deliberations about its classification some 14 years ago don’t recall the exact circumstances surrounding its submission, but say it either did meet the 50 percent threshold or came within a percentage point or two of doing so and was therefore granted a waiver.
As for Basterds, there was actually a different rule on the books the season in which it was eligible. The earlier season of Babel had also yielded foreign language Globe nominations for the aforementioned Letters from Iwo Jima, from Clint Eastwood, and Apocalypto, from Mel Gibson, prompting the HFPA to implement a rule that American productions — films with major financing and/or creative elements from the United States — would henceforth not be allowed to compete in the foreign language category in order to save spots for productions without ties to America.
However that rule was dropped after 2009’s Sin Nombre, a Spanish-language film from Cary Fukunaga that was popular with many HFPA members, went without any Globes nominations at all in early 2010.
It must also be noted that The Farewell and Minari both were submitted by their distributor, A24, for the Globes’ foreign language film category. In other words, there was not even an appeal to the HFPA to consider them elsewhere. The HFPA declined to comment for this story.
Studio sources who have frequently dealt with the HFPA suspect that the organization may be open to amending its rules after this season is over, perhaps to even restoring the eligibility requirements that were implemented after Apocalypto and Letters from Iwo Jima and that remained in place until after Sin Nombre.
They emphasize, though, that the HFPA will never adopt the Oscars’ policy of allowing a film to compete for both best picture and best foreign language film (or, as the Academy calls it, best international feature) — Parasite became the first film ever to win Oscars in both categories earlier this year — partly because the HFPA generally likes to spread its statuettes between as many films as possible, but also because the organization was founded by LA-based foreign journalists specifically to celebrate Hollywood titles in the hope that it would help them gain access to cover Hollywood talent.
No changes will be made in time to impact the Globes’ categorization of Minari, which is now a favorite to win the best foreign language film Globe. As for the Oscars? Minari is not eligible for best international feature — South Korea, regarding it as an American production, instead submitted The Man Standing Next — but is eligible for best picture.