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Is the Oscar category for best international film broken?


The Oscars were designed to be a celebration of cinema, to recognize elite acting performances and exceptional direction, and to raise awareness for those whose contributions are not necessarily displayed on the big screen, often finding their place among the subtitles in small print. It is home to the red carpet, Swarovski crystal dresses and virtue speeches on politics, inequality and climate change. The latter is particularly ironic given that many flew on private jets.

Still, controversy is what the annual Oscars have hosted more than anything. Hattie McDaniel was literally separated from her counterparts because of her color, although she was nominated and went on to win Best Supporting Actress. Marlon Brando’s historic absence from his Best Actor win in protest against discrimination against Indigenous people. The #OscarsSoWhite movement was sprouted by comedian and host Chris Rock in opposition to the obvious gap between black (lack of) representation and that of their white counterparts, and so on.


From abroad to international

The Oscars lined up
Academy of Movement Arts and Sciences

Recently there have been called for a considerable restructuring of the awards and in particular of the category of the new name of the Oscar for best international film (formerly best foreign film). Originally introduced to recognize films from other parts of the world outside of the United States, the award also provided a broader and more mainstream platform for non-English films that may not have been exhibited by American and Western audiences. This was also partly due to budgetary disparities, as well as a lack of distribution, and often the inherent snobbery that accompanies non-English subtitled films among the media and mainstream audiences.

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However, along with an increasingly progressive society and significant advances in technology, better cinema, wider distribution and a warmer, more tolerant and naturally more willing reception come with better cinema. The idea of ​​a “foreign” film is finally perceived as alienating, making an “other” of an entire culture; “the foreigner is not a cinematographic genre”, as the critic André Lapin writes. This, in turn, led to the award’s more inclusive name change.

The design of streaming services like Netflix, Prime and Apple TV+ has also brought foreign films front and center, into the homes and into the eyes and ears of previously untapped audiences. Netflix even reports that an incredible 97% of its American audience watched a non-English title on their platform in 2021.

Best international feature film or best film?

In Parasite, the family looks at a frozen pizza
C.J. Entertainment

In recent years, international films have excelled even outside of their supposed category, with films like Bong Joon-Ho Parasiteby Netflix Rome, minariand Love all receiving nominations for Best Picture, as well as other categories. With Parasite winning the Academy’s highest award in the form of Best Picture, as well as Best Original Screenplay and Best Director (and Rome also winning the latter), many wonder why there is even a separate category for these great films.

As these middle-class, middle-aged white men sit backstage with their clipboards, self-organizing rulebooks, and discerning eyes, they’ve certainly made some inroads in reforming the category. Changing the outdated and implied use of the word “stranger” was a positive first step, but a bigger problem remains to be solved. The responsibility of deciding which films are even considered for nomination is something that needs urgent improvement and correction from those at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Minari the family plays in the grass while the father looks forward

Currently, it is up to countries to nominate their own candidate. If this process remained free and democratic, away from the damaging, politically motivated and corrupt governments of some countries, then there could be transparency and fairness in the decision-making process.

Related: Trump Mocked By Parasite Studio After Trash Best Picture Oscar Win

Unfortunately, This is not the case, with many states wishing to exclude certain films from wider international consumption due to the challenge these films pose to the country’s political ideologies. This has subsequently led to countries circumventing any threat to their own propaganda by omitting these films despite potentially award-winning ones. Russian, Chinese, Iranian, Syrian and other films may be censored, with some nominees even being used as propaganda vehicles.

In Rome, the nanny holds sleeping children as she looks out the window of a moving car

An additional problem has troubled some ‘foreign’ nations, with those ineligible for any nominations because they are English-speaking countries, but at the same time fall into the category of international countries, consequently leaving them snooked. This has happened in the film industry in Nigeria as well as several other countries, which largely speak English. Ava DuVernay called it with the movie Lionheart, Nigeria’s first-ever submission for Best International Feature Film, which was rejected because Nigeria’s official language is English. The International Film category is doubly confusing considering that the tastes of the UK and Australia are both foreign and technically “foreign”, and whose language is English, and yet their films (especially Brits) win Oscars all the time.

The International Feature Films category certainly calls for scrutiny, not only on its flawed anatomy in having its nominees selected by their parent nations, but also in questioning the real need to always have a category for International Films. Considering that there is a growing proportion of categories that include nominations for major international films, several of which win major awards, there must surely be room for discussion about the existence of the category.

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