The Oscars Need to Honor International Films Within More Categories

In retrospect, it seems like Roma started a movement. That Alfonso Cuarón directorial effort scored a Best Picture nomination at the 91st Academy Awards, a feat that didn’t make it the very first foreign-language film to get recognized in this prestigious Oscars category. However, in the preceding 90 Academy Awards ceremony, only ten foreign-language films had ever received Best Picture nominations (that ten includes Babel, which had significant portions of its story told in English and was anchored by recognizable American actors). Starting with Roma, the Oscars have been on a fantastic five-year consecutive streak of having at least one motion picture primarily not in English show up in the Best Picture category.


That’s a terrific improvement from the past, but with any steps forward in these kinds of departments, it’s important to remember how quickly things can shift backward. Even with an increase in foreign-language Best Picture nominees in recent years, the Academy Awards and its voters still need to make conscious efforts to consistently recognize foreign countries on a consistent basis.

What Do We Mean by “Consistent Basis”?

Image via CJ Entertainment

That quibble may sound paradoxical considering that the Oscars have now had five consecutive ceremonies where a foreign-language film showed up in the Best Picture category. However, the consistency here refers to countries and their cinematic exploits getting recognized regularly at the Oscars rather than just in one specific year. Korean cinema, for instance, made a massive Oscars breakthrough with Parasite at the 92nd Academy Awards, a glorious event that bestowed a Bong Joon-ho masterpiece with countless Oscar records. The only issue is that, in the years since Parasite, other pieces of Korean cinema have been totally absent from the Academy Awards.

No feature-length title from South Korea has shown up in any Oscars category since Parasite’s well-deserved victories, despite the country producing titles like Park Chan-wook’s terrific 2022 feature Decision to Leave. Similarly, in the four years since Roma scored a Best Picture nomination and Best Director win at the Oscars (the latter victory being the first time in history a foreign-language film achieved a Best Director Oscar win), Mexican cinema as a whole has only scored one nomination: a Best Cinematography nod for Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths. Even that one nomination is a bit bittersweet since the Oscars fall over themselves to recognize works from Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu. It’d be awesome to see the ceremony showering love onto an array of filmmakers from Mexico after Roma redefined how much love features from this country could achieve at the Academy Awards.

Rather than opening up the eyes of Oscar voters to a multitude of cinematic options in various countries, the Oscars have, unfortunately, tended to forget about oft-overlooked territories after one year of abnormally pronounced recognition. This is further reflected in the unfortunate phenomenon of how Eurocentric the Best International Feature category can be. In the 95-year-long history of the Academy Awards, countries with rich cinematic histories like Portugal, Indonesia, Thailand, and countless others have submitted 20+ titles over several decades to the Academy Awards for consideration for nomination in the Best International Feature category.

These three countries and several others, including many in Africa, have never been nominated. On the other hand, countries like Denmark, Spain, Sweden, and France have been recognized largely for films about white people from mostly white filmmakers (though, of course, not entirely, as seen by the Oscar-nominated French feature Les Miserables from director Ladj Ly). The dominance of such titles has ensured that there’s an uncomfortable portrait of what “proper” global cinema looks like, with the lack of recurring presence for works from territories like South Korea reinforcing this perception. Let’s be clear: many Oscar-nominated works from countries like Sweden or France are masterpieces and deserving of awards love. But so too are motion pictures from countries that the Oscars don’t give near-annual affection to.

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The Oscars Under-Awarding International Films Is Frustrating — but There Is Hope

This trend is especially frustrating given how much it reinforces troubling elements of how, where, and when the Academy recognizes international cinema. Throughout its history, the Academy Awards ceremony has had short periods of time where it recognizes certain territories or continents on multiple occasions before forgetting about those countries afterward. Most notably, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was a welcome renewed focus on South American cinema from a variety of countries. The Columbian film Maria Full of Grace scored a Best Actress nod for Catalina Sandino Morena while Fernanda Montenegro secured a nomination in the same category for the Brazilian feature Central Station.

At the 76th Academy Awards, City of God, a feature hailing from Brazil, managed to make history as the first feature from the country and all of South America to garner a nod in the Best Director category. It was a remarkable achievement for director Fernando Meirelles, but unfortunately, after the 77th Academy Awards, South American cinema has been excluded from the four acting and Best Director categories. A brief awareness of these territories and the wildly diverse cinema made in various South American countries did not translate into long-term permanent recognition of these regions at the Oscars. Similarly, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon garnering so much attention from the Oscars (including nominations for Best Picture and Best Director) did not end up yielding ongoing recognition for other movies made in countries involved in its creation, namely Taiwan and China.

The way the Oscars struggle to consistently expand the countries it recognizes is incredibly frustrating, but there is reason to be hopeful that, over time, things can improve. The voting block for the Academy Awards significantly expands each year, with many of those new voters hailing from a variety of international communities. As this collection of voters becomes more and more global, there’s a greater chance voters will be more conscious of recognizing countries like South Korea or Brazil beyond just one or two specific years. Plus, recent trailblazing events like the victory of RRR’s tune “Naatu Naatu” in the Best Original Song category do redefine the kind of feats global cinema can accomplish at the Academy Awards. If RRR can make history like that, perhaps it’s also possible for the Academy Awards to further expand its recognition of international cinema from all parts of the world.

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