‘Minari’ deserves better than outdated, otherizing Golden Globes rules

Steven Yeun, Alan S. Kim, Youn Yuh-Jung, Yeri Han, and Noel Cho
Left to right: Steven Yeun, Alan S. Kim, Youn Yuh-Jung, Yeri Han, and Noel Cho in Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari.”
(Josh Ethan Johnson / A24)

Lee Isaac Chung‘s critical darling “Minari” earned a 2021 foreign-language Golden Globe nomination Wednesday morning, yet emerged one of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s most glaring snubs as an acclaimed picture made by and about Asian Americans was shut out from top prize contention by rules for films not in the English language for the second year in a row.

The omission of “Minari” from any nominations other than foreign-language reignited criticism of the HFPA’s classification rules, sparking a recurring outcry on social media: “‘Minari’ is an American film.”

The family drama, which won the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury and Audience prizes last year, stars Steven Yeun and Yeri Han in the poignant tale of Korean American immigrants who move to a rural Arkansas farm in the 1980s with their children (Alan S. Kim and Noel Cho) in pursuit of the American dream.


Produced by Plan B and distributed by A24, the Feb. 12 release — a U.S. production by an American writer-director, filmed in America with an American and Korean cast — was made in English and Korean and is an Academy Award contender in major categories including best picture, with veteran actress Youn Yuh-jung widely predicted to earn an Oscar nod for her supporting turn as the family’s grandmother.

Lee Isaac Chung’s moving immigrant drama “Minari” is a gentle, truthful and tender story of family.

Dec. 10, 2020

But unlike the Academy, which in 2020 awarded Bong Joon Ho‘s Korean thriller “Parasite” four Oscars including best picture and best international film, the HFPA bars films with more than 50% dialogue in a language other than English from being submitted for best picture. Instead, those films may only be submitted for foreign-language film while remaining eligible in other categories except the top film prizes.

The restriction has been critiqued as a xenophobic rule that reinforces the marginalization of non-white voices and stories in an industry still very much struggling to become more inclusive. “Minari,” after all, hails from a country of origin that does not have an official language — the United States — and where 21.6% of the population speaks a language other than English at home, according to the U.S. Census.

Equating non-English language with “foreignness” in the case of a film as quintessentially American as “Minari” has drawn even more scrutiny given that other films heavily featuring non-English dialogue, such as Globes best picture winner “Babel” and best picture nominee “Inglourious Basterds,” were allowed to compete beyond the foreign-language category in the past. Of course, both films happened to feature a major Hollywood star — coincidentally, the same star: Brad Pitt — something that is always considered an asset when wooing HFPA voters.

(According to The Hollywood Reporter, the 2009 release of “Basterds” landed at a time when the foreign-language qualification rules were different — Hollywood productions were briefly barred from the category after Clint Eastwood’s “Letters From Iwo Jima” and Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” both scored foreign-language nominations in 2006, with “Iwo Jima” winning the category at the 2007 Globes. The rules subsequently reverted to once again allow American productions to compete for foreign-language honors.)

Korean actress Youn Yuh-jung
South Korean actress Youn Yuh-jung, who plays unconventional grandma Soonja in “Minari,” has drawn acclaim and several critics awards for her supporting turn in the A24 drama.

Last year, Lulu Wang‘s Spirit Award-winner “The Farewell,” also released by A24, met a similar fate. Like “Minari,” its story was grounded in the cultural experience of being Asian American. But despite being a U.S. production with an American helmer and star, it was beholden to Globes language restrictions and submitted for foreign-language film, for which it earned a nomination. “The Farewell” won the only other category it was up for, making history when Awkwafina became the first best actress winner of Asian descent.

Amid predictably unpredictable surprises and slights, the HFPA — comprised of 89 members who cover Hollywood for international outlets — failed to nominate “Minari” for additional categories in which it is expected to compete this season including writing, directing and acting categories. After a year defined by widespread racial justice reckonings in America, the 78th annual Golden Globes nominations also ignored several acclaimed Black-themed and led projects for top prizes in both film and television, including Michaela Cole‘s hit HBO series “I Will Destroy You.”

Neither did the organization choose to make a category placement change for “Minari,” as it did for other films and performances such as British filmmaker Emerald Fennell‘s “Promising Young Woman,” which was switched from comedy to drama, or Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” who was moved from supporting to the lead category. Both pictures ended up with multiple Globes nods apiece, including nominations for best picture.

The SAG Award nominations, considered a more accurate arbiter for the Oscar race, will be announced Feb. 4.