‘Minari’ wins best foreign language film at Golden Globes. Yes, it’s American

Steven Yeun stands in a field with his movie family in a scene from "Minari."
Steven Yeun in A24’s “Minari,” directed by Lee Isaac Chung.
(David Bornfriend / A24)

After drawing criticism for barring American drama “Minari” from competing for best picture honors, the Golden Globes awarded its 2021 foreign language prize to writer-director Lee Isaac Chung’s critically acclaimed film Sunday night.

The Arkansas-set tale about a Korean American immigrant family that moves to a rural farm in the 1980s is based on Chung’s own childhood and stars Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Will Patton, veteran Korean actress Yuh-Jung Youn and newcomers Alan Kim and Noel Cho.

Chung accepted the award, thanking his cast and collaborators as his young daughter clung to his neck in celebration. “She’s the reason I made this film.”


“ ‘Minari’ is about a family trying to learn how to speak a language of its own,” he said. “It goes deeper than any American language and any foreign language. It’s a language of the heart. I’m trying to learn it myself and to pass it on, and I hope we’ll all learn to speak this language of love to each other — especially this year.”

Co-produced by A24 and Plan B and released this month, “Minari” is in both English and Korean but was ineligible for entry into the best picture race, per Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. rules for films more than 50% in a language other than English.

“Minari” was the sole American movie vying for this year’s Globes foreign language category, nominated alongside “Another Round” (Denmark), “La Llorona” (Guatemala), “The Life Ahead” (Italy) and “Two of Us” (France). None of the nominees was permitted to enter the best motion picture drama or comedy races, in contrast to the Oscars, where “Parasite” became the first film to win both the international film prize and the best picture award last year.

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The Globes shut “Parasite” out of its best picture race last year; this also marks the second consecutive year that an Asian American film inspired by a true story has been ineligible for Globes best picture consideration. Last year, Lulu Wang’s widely acclaimed and Spirit Award-winning “The Farewell,” about an American woman’s relationship with her elderly grandmother, was not eligible for best picture. Shot in Mandarin and English, it won the lead actress comedy or musical film prize for star Awkwafina, making her the first actress of Asian descent to win the award.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the 87-member organization that votes for the Golden Globe Awards, has also faced widespread criticism this year in the wake of a Times investigation into ethical lapses. Among the investigation’s findings was that the group has no Black members. The fallout included an organized Time’s Up social media protest urging the HFPA: “A cosmetic fix isn’t enough.”

In the foreign language category, the HFPA’s strict 50-50 language rule has fluctuated in the past, allowing films such as “Babel” and “Inglourious Basterds” — both of which coincidentally starred Brad Pitt — to be nominated for best picture, drama, with “Babel” winning the prize. Pitt is an executive producer on “Minari” through his Plan B company, but he does not appear in the film.


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Instead, “Minari’s” quintessentially American story centers on its Korean American and Korean cast. It takes its title from the traditional Korean herb known for its hardiness, a metaphor for the persistence and faith that the picture’s fictional Yi family finds in the face of hardship as Jacob (Yeun) and Monica (Han) uproot their lives to give their children a better future. The movie won the top two prizes — the audience and jury awards — at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

“For all the struggle that takes place in this movie, it is its quiet grace that you most remember,” Glenn Whipp wrote for The Times. “‘Minari’ shares its secrets with a whisper, and as it unfolds, you find yourself leaning into it, enraptured.”

The organization said the perception that many members are not serious journalists is “outdated and unfair” and that it is committed to addressing the lack of Black members.

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