How foreign-language films broke into the Oscars

Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall, a French courtroom drama that debuted at Cannes, where it won the Palme d’Or, was nominated for best picture, as well as in four other categories, including best director and best original screenplay. Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest, a German-language, UK-produced Holocaust drama that also debuted at Cannes, earned a best picture nod as well as four additional nominations, including best director, best international feature film and best adapted screenplay. The best picture category this year also includes Celine Song’s Past Lives, a drama about lost love that plays out in both Korean and English.

Michael Schulman, author of Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears, believes there are a few factors driving the rise in foreign-language films being nominated in major categories – one of those being the #OscarsSoWhite campaign that kicked off in 2015 as a hashtag started by activist and writer April Reign to protest the Academy’s failure to recognise the achievements of people of color across the industry. 

“In the wake of #OscarsSoWhite in 2015 and 2016, the Academy made this huge effort to diversify and expand its membership,” Schulman tells BBC Culture. “And a lot of the attention went to the fact that they were bringing in more women, more people of color, and more younger voters. But there was also a real underappreciated push to get way more international members, and so the Academy is much more global now.” 

New York Times awards season columnist Kyle Buchanan agrees, calling the increasingly international makeup of the Academy “a byproduct of the organisation’s drive to diversify itself in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite”.

“The Academy has invited a large swath of talent based outside the United States to join its ranks,” Buchanan tells BBC Culture. “And you can see their tastes reflected in a slate of nominees that stretch from Hollywood to beyond.”

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