“Parasite” Made History, and yet no Quick Fix for Oscar’s “Foreign Films” Category

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To the surprise of many, the South Korean Thriller “Parasite” won the Oscar for best picture and took best director, best original screenplay and best international film at the 92nd Academy Awards, becoming the first non-English language film to win the top award at Oscar.

The first time a foreign-language film was nominated for best picture was about 80 years ago. Over the 92 years of Oscar awards history, only 10 foreign-language films have been nominated for best picture. This includes the Italian comedy-drama “Life is Beautiful” and Ang Lee’s wuxia (martial arts heroes) film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. “Roma”, a film set in Mexico City and directed by Alfonso Cuaron, was one of the leading contenders for best picture last year, but it didn’t win.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science is the organization that votes for Oscar. Over the years, the Academy has been pushing for a larger and more diverse membership to vote for Oscar. Last year, it extended invitations to 842 film industry professionals in 59 countries. About 50 percent of the 842 film industry professionals invited to become members that year were women and about 29 percent were minorities.

In addition to the diversity efforts, the Academy has recently amended its rules in the hope that it would help Americans change their view about world cinema. The Best Foreign Language Feature Award, created in 1956, was renamed as the Best International Feature Award. According to the Academy, “foreign” is an outdated word, and that the new award would promote a positive and inclusive view of filmmaking, and the art of film as a universal experience.

However, this name change does not affect the submission process or eligibility requirements for foreign film awards, and many think the rules still fall short. An international feature film is currently defined as “a feature-length motion picture produced outside the United States of America with a predominantly non-English dialogue track.” Under this definition, any country whose official language is English could have trouble submitting their film for best international feature film, since the film has to be primarily non-English in order to be considered. Moreover, each country determines which movie it will submit for nomination for best international film, and some suggest that the decision should be made by the Academy itself.

Oscar rules are reviewed by the Academy each year. The Awards and Events Committee reviews all proposed changes, and present recommendations to the Academy Board for final approval.

by Jesse Weiner & Shuying Lin

YK Law LLP, New York

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