What makes an American Film, American?

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What makes an American Film, American?

Over recent years, the film industry or specifically Hollywood, has had to address some very demanding socio-political questions. In short, these questions are concerned with inclusion and representation. 

It's a vast topic of discussion with no specific answer other than, those in power have the last word. And with the Golden Globe Awards just over a month away, the topic of discussion is; why is Minari not a nominee for best picture 2021?

The answer according to the Golden Globes Award is 'Minari is an American production acted in Korean and as such qualifies for the Golden Globes’ Foreign Language'. Does that still leave the question open as to why can't it be a contender for best picture?

I have not seen a more American film than #Minari this year. It's a story about an immigrant family, IN America, pursuing the American dream. We really need to change these antiquated rules that characterizes American as only English-speaking. - @thumbelulu

That was a tweet from director Lulu Wang, whose film, The Farewell, suffered a similar fate, being barred from competing in the Best Picture category 2020. And surprisingly another A24 release.

Minari Film

Minari is Isaac Lee Cheung’s fifth film and is a work of auto-fiction, which tells the story of a struggling Korean couple, Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica (Yeri Han), who make the pioneering trip to the land of hope and glory. After years of saving, the couple who now have a young family, move to a farm in Arkansas in pursuit of the 'American Dream' providing prized vegetables to Koreans immigrants. They are isolated remotely and need help, so Monicas mum, Soonja (Yuh-jung-Youn), comes to help and although she provides great relief for the parents, she is bone of contention for the children, who don't understand her 'Korean' ways. 


Set to the backdrop of Regans' America, this story may resonate with many 2nd and 3rd generation migrants from all backgrounds, as the film deals with themes of migration, identity, social-inclusion and inter-generational cultural differences. Anne Cohen put it beautifully in her piece on the subject, 'its the push and pull between one’s culture of origin and the desire to assimilate into the country you’ve chosen to make your own'. So, as a result, much of the dialogue is in Korean, hence HFPAs (Hollywood Foreign Press Association) decision.

This has raised eyebrows amongst critics, film stars and fans who have made their voices heard across social media asking, why Quentin Tarantino's 2009, Inglorious Basterds, which is not in English most of the time, was allowed to compete in the Best Picture category. And that was about a rouge bandit of American-Jew army soldiers, fighting the Nazi's in Germany.

A sad and disappointing reminder that a movie about the American dream, set in America, starring an American, directed by an American, and produced by an American company, is somehow foreign. #Minari - @andrewphung

Again to quote Anne Cohen '...siloing The Farewell and Minari to the foreign-language race, Hollywood is essentially equating Americanness with English, a designation that feels unquestionably Eurocentrist, antiquated, and racially-biased.

Is Hollywood at point where it rules are out of date and doesn't quite fit in with todays 'norms'? How do the commentators propose a move forward. Remember, its a rule which will have to inclusive and representative and can't seek to help one and not the other. 

It maybe too late for HFPA to reverse their decisions, as the awards will be held on the 28th February, one would hope that next year, it considers it's rules on what constitutes an American film, as there will be many a backlash this year if The Prom wins Best Picture another film set in the 80's.

According to Decider the film has made rounds in last year’s digital film festival circuit, Minari will finally get a limited theatrical release on February 12, 2021. The film will receive a wider rollout on March 15, 2021. 

Director: Lee Isaac Chung
Cast: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, and Yuh-Jung Youn
Language: Korean (English subtitles) / English
Country: America
Year: 2020
Genre: Family Drama 

Winner for U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award.