Photo Credit: Getty Images/Ringer Illustration
By Adeline Ku
The recent Golden Globes awards show has garnered lots of attention– this is the first annual awards season following the committee’s implementation of revised standards after being met with harsh accusations of elitism. As such, the public has regarded the contenders and award recipients with both skepticism and enthusiasm. After coming out of about three awards seasons riddled with criticism and non-transparency, many wonder whether or not the Golden Globes are still relevant.
History of Foreign Films in Hollywood
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which votes on nominees, is a nonprofit organization of photographers and journalists that have roots in World War II. When Pearl Harbor drew America into the war, the general public sought out films as a form of escapism. Out of this burgeoned the HFPA, spearheaded by white elites who sought to create an organization to evaluate films while expressing the importance of foreign marketability. Nowadays, the HFPA is a more diverse organization that votes on annual nominations for categories spanning from best picture to best comedy. However, the HFPA came under scrutiny a few seasons back for its arbitrary exclusion of foreign films and directors for major top categories.
The HFPA’s previous rules stipulated that nominees in the Golden Globes’ best drama or comedy/musical categories must be films composed of at least 50% English dialogue. Conversely, nominees for non-English (previously foreign film) categories must comprise of at least 50% non-English dialogue. What this meant was that foreign films were not eligible for consideration in top categories while English-spoken films were. So while films like Parasite, The Farewell, and Pedro Almodovar’s Pain and Glory did amass critical praise and attention, they were notably excluded from top categories such as best picture. Because Parasite and Pain and Glory were fully in Korean and Spanish respectively while The Farewell was mainly in Mandarin, these lauded films were ineligible for consideration for best comedy and best drama by the HFPA’s standards.
Arbitrary standards of consideration such as these are confusing at best and systematically exclusionary at worst. It results in not only the undermining of foreign cinematic mastery, but also for consideration of American films to become wildly misconstrued. For example, Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari only competed in the foreign language category a few years ago even though the film was written and directed by an American filmmaker, starred an American lead actor, and was produced by an American production company. Controversies like this have caused actors and directors alike to speak out and condemn the organization’s elitist standards. These critiques of exclusionary standards are especially resonant when considering that the organization had no reservations recognizing animated features such as The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast for best comedy and musical prize even before the animated category existed.
In response to criticisms made by actors, directors, and the general public, the HFPA released an announcement in June of 2021 that the organization would revise its standards of evaluation. The HFPA declared that non-English films were eligible to compete for top categories moving forward. However, in a disappointing exclusive by Variety magazine, it was uncovered that at the time of the HFPA’s voting season in December of that same year, no foreign feature films were considered in best drama, picture, comedy, or musical picture. This contradiction calls into question the HFPA’s sincerity and commitment to their June announcement. However, during this recent 2023 awards season, foreign directors like S.S. Rajamouli and Guillermo Del Toro were praised for their artistic contributions with dazzling accolades. “Naatu Naatu” in RRR directed by S.S. Rajamouli won best original song and Pinocchio directed by Guillermo Del Toro won best animated feature against the popular film Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. Perhaps this is evidence of the HFPA’s candor or perhaps it is simply their response to being caught in their own contradiction of the 2022 season.
What Does this Mean for Foreign Directors?
If the HFPA stays true to their commitment to revised standards of consideration, this might mean that foreign directors will be more frequently considered for major categories. Many are optimistic about the future of foreign work in Western markets, especially after Parasite’s exceptional acceptance and praise. However, not all are convinced. Remaining critics are skeptical and question why foreign directors and films must vie so desperately for the same recognition of American directors and films. This critique is motivated by the argument that while no organization is perfect and can certainly work to reconcile their history, this does not have to be at the expense of the respect foreign directors already receive within their own cultures. For example, films like Parasite, RRR, Drive My Car, and Pinocchio are highly respected and enjoyed within their own cultures by dint of their artistic contributions and relatable narratives.
The future of foreign directors and films in our Western ecosystem of media remains in flux. Perhaps there is an amazing star-studded future that awaits foreign films in Western culture so long as we continue to advocate for them. Or perhaps we must appreciate foreign films the way they are– with or without a Golden Globe, Oscar, or whatever else.
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