“I prayed, I prayed, I prayed!” screamed the young daughter of “Minari” director Lee Isaac Chung as she accepted the Golden Globe award Sunday night for best foreign language film. I have also prayed that Asian-American films like “Minari” receive all kinds of big awards. But an award for the best foreign language was not what he had in mind. Like most Asian Americans, I have faced the perpetual alien stereotype my entire life. I frequently answer “where are you Really Since? “And I’ve been told to” go back to China. “So when” Minari “was nominated in the foreign language category and excluded from competing for best drama, Asian Americans let out a collective groan. And when he won, what should have been a moment of collective joy felt like the award equivalent to the ambiguous compliment: “Your English is so good!”
Like most Asian Americans, I have faced the perpetual alien stereotype my entire life. I frequently answer “where are you really from?”
“Minari” is a beautiful film written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, based on his own upbringing on a farm in rural Arkansas. The film shows an American family of Korean origin overcoming difficulties in pursuit of the American dream. It is obviously a American history. The capture? Much of the dialogue was in Korean, which under Golden Globe rules disqualified him from the top categories. Official rules state that films must have “50% or more English dialogue” to compete for the best film in drama or musical / comedy awards. Therefore, films in any other language are classified into silos.
Although I grew up in California, there were scenes in “Minari” that resonated with my own life. Like the little boy in the movie, David, I also told my grandmother with shame “you smell” when she came to visit us in the United States. When the Yi family visits a local church for the first time and a white boy turns in the pews to look at David in confusion, I had memories of my entire childhood. Calling “Minari” a “foreign language movie” felt like a denial of my own American history and that of so many Americans from immigrant families.
Like Lulu Wang, director of “The Farewell” tweeted when the nominations were announced in December: “I have not seen a more American film than #Minari this year. It is a story about an immigrant family, IN the United States, pursuing the American dream. We really need to change these outdated rules that characterize Americans as only English-speaking. “Wang’s excellent” The Farewell, “another film about an Asian-American family, was also nominated the previous year for a Golden Globe Award for Best foreign language due to its majority dialogue in Mandarin.
“The Farewell,” starring New York-born actress (and non-Mandarin speaker) Awkwafina, is just one more proof why the Globes rule is outdated and discriminatory. English is not even the official language of the United States (hint: there is none). In fact, 21.6 percent of Americans (ages 5 and older) speak a language other than English at home. Since immigrants and their children make up more than 25 percent of the American population, movies like “Minari” and “The Farewell” should be recognized for what they are: American stories.
Another problem with the English dialogue rule is that it is applied inconsistently. In 2012, “The Artist”, a French silent film without dialogue, was nominated and won the Golden Globe for best comedy or musical. Furthermore, foreign European films are regularly nominated for top awards. This year, “The Father,” a Franco-British co-production with a French director, was nominated for best drama. But “Minari,” an American production with an American director, could not compete for the top prize. This does not make sense when it comes to dividing “foreign” from “domestic”.
In a climate of increased anti-Asian violence, labeling an Asian-American movie as “Minari” as “foreign” feels even more offensive.
In a climate of increased anti-Asian violence, labeling an Asian-American movie as “Minari” as “foreign” feels even more offensive. Advocacy groups such as “Stop Asian American Pacific Islander Hate” have received more than 2,800 reported incidents of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans across the United States. Asian Americans report physical assaults along with verbal harassment such as “stop bringing the Chinese virus here.” At the center of these attacks is a xenophobic perception of Asian Americans as foreign threats. While anti-Asian racism is not new, the recent spike has been fueled by the government using words like “foreign virus” and “Chinese virus.” The World Health Organization has condemned the use of such language and officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have criticized the phrases as “inaccurate and potentially harmful to promote racist associations.” Consequently, the label “foreigner” (even if it is a celebration) is misleading at best and dangerous at worst.
The Golden Globes should be like the Academy Awards and allow films of any language to compete for the best film in drama or comedy. In 2020, the South Korean film “Parasite” won the Oscar for best picture, making history as the first non-English film to win the award. Going from celebrating the victory of “Parasite” to a consolation prize for “Minari” feels bittersweet. (If “Minari” gets an Oscar nomination for best picture this year, it would feel like redemption.)
Lee Isaac Chung’s acceptance speech brought home how “Minari” is not limited by any language. “’Minari’ is about a family,” he explained. “It is a family that tries to learn to speak its own language. It is deeper than any American language and any foreign language. It is a language of the heart, and I am trying to learn it myself and pass it on, and I hope we all learn to speak this language of love with each other, especially this year. “
Hollywood needs to recognize that whatever language Asian Americans choose to speak is American, because are American people.