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Thank the lack of films released this year due to the pandemic, the Academy’s expanded membership or simply a growing acceptance of subtitles. But, for myriad reasons, several Oscar-nominated screenplays are either set in foreign countries or told in languages other than spoken American English.

These include original screenplay nominees “Belfast,” writer-director Kenneth Branagh’s slightly fictionalized memoir of his childhood in Northern Ireland that reminds that religious strife and land grabs are still ever-present threats in today’s society, and “The Worst Person in the World,” the Norwegian dark romantic comedy by Eskil Vogt and Joachim Trier. Despite what that film’s title suggests, it isn’t about a serial killer or some abusive person who commits a horrific crime. Rather, it’s about a 30-year-old woman named Julie (Renate Reinsve ) and the very international topic of whether some people’s desires to not have kids make them bad humans.

Adapted screenplays include the Japanese film “Drive My Car,” Ryûsuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe’s take on author Haruki Murakami’s story about a director (Hidetoshi Nishijima’s Yūsuke Kafuku’s) grieving for his wife. The questions that he has for his wife that he never thought to ask, or could never bring himself, continue to weigh on him and impact his career to the point of a breakdown. As he prepares for a staged production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” he lets a chauffeur (Tōko Miura’s Misaki Watari) drive his beloved Saab as per the wishes of the theater festival.

There’s also “CODA,” Siân Heder’s adaptation of the French film “La Famille Bélier.” Focusing on a child of deaf adults, the film is told largely in American Sign Language. Emilia Jones plays Ruby Rossi, a high schooler and the only hearing member of her family. She wants to pursue a singing career and struggles to communicate this to her parents and brother.

Even adapted screenplay nominee “The Lost Daughter,” which is written and directed by American Maggie Gyllenhaal, is based on the work of Italian novelist Elena Ferrante and has been a lightning rod for the perpetual American topic of what it means to be a good mother.

“Drive My Car’s” Oe says via a translator that he was “extremely surprised” by how well his film has been received in the U.S., because “I didn’t know if there would necessarily be the same sorts of things that resonate between America and Japan.”

“As a part of life, there are many things and many questions that we’re never going to find the answers to,” he says. For example, “in Japan, one thing we’re very familiar with is natural disasters … not only do people lose their lives [but] we also lose things. And this is something that is really merciless, or heartless, these sorts of things. But it’s something that we’re accustomed to dealing with and we’re very familiar with.”

The story of “CODA” is also something almost all audiences can relate to: teen angst and the feeling of not being understood by your family while also having a sense of duty to help and protect them.

“Families are messy and I loved telling a story which was a communal coming-of-age, where everyone had to grow up and evolve,” writer-director Heder says. “It was challenging and exciting to write a script where there was no real villain and all the drama came from subtle emotional complications and familial tension.”

She says that it was also important “to honor ASL in a way that we don’t often see on screen: as a rich and unique language and culture.”

“Though this was a very specific family, the themes and emotions within the story were familiar and universal,” Heder says. “It was a way to normalize characters who have historically been seen as ‘other’. “
Across the Atlantic, Victoria Bedos also used these themes when she co-wrote the original French version of the film because she says she wanted a way of “using real deafness as a metaphor for a kind of sentimental deafness.”

“At the time that I was writing the film, I had just started to sing in a band called Vicky Banjo,” she says. “I wanted to sing to my parents what I wished I could say to them so that they could hear what I had to say [and] understand who I was. It’s why I decided to make the main character [in ‘La Famille Bélier’] a singer, like me, so she could be ‘heard.’ It started as a very intimate, personal story and became something bigger and more universal.”

From a marketing and distribution perspective, these films also show the range of what constitutes “diversity” and how that term changes regionally.

“Drive My Car’s” Oe says, in Japan “we are seeing greater calls for diversity. This is a phrase that is commonly used by many different kinds of people currently” but that also “we’re still in this pandemic, or coming out of this pandemic. And I think people are very sensitive to certain things. So there’s the potential for reverse discrimination, and other things like that to also be called into play. So it’s not a stabilized environment.”

The increasingly mainstream success of these films, as well as the proliferation of at-home screening platforms with captioning, also suggest that audiences are willing (and able to) read and watch at the same time. The stigma that subtitles are only for snotty arthouse fare is diminishing.

Bedos, not surprisingly, is all for this because it “allows us to discover languages we’re not familiar with while preserving their original flavor. We’re better able to dive into their world.” She offers the example that, in “La Famille Bélier” “I was asked to make the audience understand [lead character,] Paula, by having her translate audibly while her parents and brother were signing. In ‘CODA,’ those discussions are subtitled. It’s more subtle, we feel the silence as Ruby does, and we discover what’s it’s like to live among a deaf family.”

Meanwhile, Heder stresses that “diverse storytelling” shouldn’t just be about race and gender.

“For a long time, disability has been left out of the diversity conversation,” the “CODA” writer-director says. “One in four Americans identifies as having a disability and on-screen representation is at about 3%. That is a massive discrepancy.”

She reminds that “movies are a powerful tool for making a community feel seen and heard. And there are so many amazing stories within the Deaf and disabled that need to be told. This is just one. My hope is that ‘CODA’ helps kick the door open for more of these stories to be told.”

It certainly seems that it is. In addition to Heder’s nomination, the film is also nominated for best picture. And Troy Kotsur, who plays patriarch Frank Rossi in “CODA,” is nominated for a supporting actor — making history as the first male deaf Oscar nominee.