Golden Globes: What the HFPA Needs to Do to Fix the ‘Minari’ Debacle

After Lee Isaac Chung's "Minari" and Lulu Wang's "The Farewell," it's time for the HFPA to revise its rules about what films are allowed to compete for best picture.

Photo courtesy of A24

The Hollywood Foreign Press has come under fire again for the rule that disallows “Minari,” the story of a Korean immigrant family struggling to build a better life in Arkansas, from competing in the Golden Globes race for best drama or musical/comedy. As the entertainment industry faces pressure to become more diverse and inclusive, both in the stories it tells and in terms of the actors and filmmakers it champions, the HFPA should have foreseen the outcry from Hollywood.

The rules around Golden Globes eligibility for best picture categories are outdated and need to be overhauled — fast.

“Minari,” which stars an American, is directed by an American and produced, financed, and distributed by U.S. companies, is ineligible in the best picture categories and must compete in the foreign language category. The problem was also faced by last year by “The Farewell,” Lulu Wang’s acclaimed dramedy, in 2019, which, like “Minari,” was forced into the foreign language race and excluded from competing for the Globes’ top prizes.

The Globes eligibility rules state that any film with at least 50% of non-English dialogue goes into the foreign language category, and movies that compete for best foreign language film can’t win the best musical/comedy or best drama prize. The film’s distributor, A24, confirms that it submitted “Minari” into the foreign language category due to the current rules. In other words, the company had no choice and thought this was the only avenue for recognition of the film itself.

However, other films that have a great deal of non-English dialogue, such as “Babel” and “Inglourious Basterds” have competed for Globes, with “Babel” winning the drama honor in 2006.

The HFPA declined to comment.

The Oscars category, which changed its name to international film rather than foreign language, has its own issues. Countries choose one film to represent the territory for a nomination for best international feature film, which leads to political jockeying and excludes the possibility of two movies from the same country being nominated. However, those movies can be nominated for the Oscar for best picture, as long as they receive a U.S. release by the end of the eligibility period. Hence, Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” won both best picture and international feature in 2020, while Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” nearly pulled off the same double play in 2019.

The official HFPA rules regarding foreign language films state:

  • Must be a motion picture drama or musical or comedy with more than 50% non-English dialogue. HFPA may request a continuity script to verify that motion pictures entered as best foreign language motion picture meet the minimum requirement for non-English language dialogue; failure to provide a requested script in a timely manner will result in the entry being rejected.
  • Motion picture dramas, musicals or comedies with 50% or more English dialogue are eligible for the Best Motion Picture – Drama or Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy awards.

Cinema is a medium that has been in need of diverse stories for decades. The HFPA has shown an openness to genres, but the problem is that “language” is not a genre. A piece of art in which a family who have recently immigrated to the United States works tirelessly to improve their economic situation while grappling with language and cultural barriers is a very familiar story. You could argue that nothing is more American. Foreign language films with wildly differing genres are lumped together, whether hilarious (“Wild Tales”), terrifying (“Funny Games”), or emotional (“Son of Saul”). By throwing them in the same “box,” it dishonors the very notion that the HFPA are trying to achieve by separating comedies and dramas at the awards ceremonies. What separates these films is the way they tell these stories, injecting them with humor or pathos, not the language in which they are delivered.

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Alan S. Kim and Steven Yeun in “Minari” (A24) Photo courtesy of A24

The foreign-language category isn’t the only one needing some reform. When the HFPA instituted the best animated feature category in 2006, these films were no longer allowed to compete in the best picture category. In previous years, the HFPA rewarded films like “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” and “Toy Story 2” in the best picture comedy or musical prize. Why are they no longer worthy of that distinction now?

Under the current rules, documentary films also have no avenue to be recognized at the Golden Globes. The rules state, “documentaries are not eligible for any of the motion picture award categories, including the Best Motion Picture categories, and the acting, directing, screenplay, song and score categories.” What do their rules say about documentary filmmakers, artists who continue to bend and revolutionize the way we see movies?

“The Farewell,” which is over 50% spoken in Mandarin, nonetheless lists “USA” as the country on the Golden Globes website. The film was ultimately nominated for foreign language film and lost to “Parasite” from South Korea. Still, its star Awkwafina won best actress in a comedy or musical, marking the first time an Asian won that award. Why was a performance recognized as comedic, while the HFPA felt the movies most distinguishing feature was that key dialogue was spoken in Mandarin? That contradictory situation needs to be reexamined.

Steven Yeun, who stars and is an executive producer on “Minari,” clearly explained this in an interview with Variety, “This is an Asian American story. It is American. We just don’t have that space of understanding carved out in society yet on what an Asian American story feels and sounds like.” He goes on to say, “I’m Korean. I’m just a human being. But then when I step outside my door, sometimes I’m reminded that I’m also a delineated version of an American, which is, I’m a Korean American or Asian American. And sometimes, constantly living in that place doesn’t allow you to see yourself whole and true.”

On Twitter, Wang wrote, “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.”

Every spring, the HFPA reviews its rules, taking into account any concerns or issues raised from years prior. With the conversation surrounding “Minari,” it’s likely the 89-member group will examine the rules for next year’s eligibility — but why didn’t it happen after last year’s outcry for “The Farewell”?

“Minari” is currently open in limited release, with a wider rollout beginning on Feb. 12. You should see it. It’s a reminder of the millions of families who risked everything in the hopes of creating a better life for themselves and their children. What could be more universal than that?