With the recent announcement of this year’s Oscar nominations, there are more foreign-language film nominees for Best Picture than ever before.
In 2023, the Oscars saw two international foreign language films to be included for Best Picture, as well as one American but partially foreign-language production.
This figure may seem small, but it was a new record in the Academy’s 96-year run, in which historically no more than one foreign-language film has ever been nominated for best picture in any given year.
In 2020, Parasite became the first non-English language film in Oscars history to win best picture. Just a few weeks prior, the film’s director Bong Joon-ho said “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you’ll be introduced to so many amazing films”. – a sentiment the industry has taken seriously.
This year’s Best Picture category announces French courtroom drama ‘Anatomy of a Fall’ and German-language, UK produced Holocaust drama The Zone of Interest alongside English language nominees Oppenheimer and Killers of the Flower Moon.
Directed by Justine Triet, Anatomy of the Fall debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, winning the prestigious Palme d’Or. Alongside its best picture nomination, it has arrived in four other categories, including best director and best original screenplay.
Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest, also first-seen at Cannes, has earned four additional nominations to its shot at best picture – including best director, best international feature film and best adapted screenplay.
The best picture category this year also plays host to Celine Song’s Past Lives, a melancholic romance told in both Korean and English.
Author of Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears, Michael Schulman, believes there are multiple factors fueling a rise in foreign-language nominations in major Oscars categories. This includes the #OscarsSoWhite campaign that took the internet by storm in 2015. Starting as a hashtag initiated by activist and writer April Reign, the movement protested the Academy’s failure to recognise the achievements of people of color across the entertainment industry.
Speaking to BBC Culture, Schulman said – “In the wake of #OscarsSoWhite in 2015 and 2016, the Academy made this huge effort to diversify and expand its membership,”
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.”
Many film fans and industry professionals have also called for a change in how we refer to films not made in English.
Schulman attests the amended category name for best international feature film was another strong sign of change amid Academy voters: “The word ‘foreign’ – foreign to whom?” he asks. “They felt like ‘international’ would be more inclusive and less of an American perspective.”
Streaming services and global access to film and TV from all over the world has largely been acknowledged as a part of the Academy figures. Streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon have made access to global productions easier than ever before, driving cultural linguistic and cultural interest, as well as film and production.
Schulman explains, English speaking audiences no longer have “To go to an arthouse movie theater to watch a movie in German – it was just on Netflix”.
“Popular interest fuels Oscar nominations and then Oscar nominations and wins fuel audience interest. Something like All Quiet on the Western Front really caught on through Netflix – and then as [more] people heard about it through the Oscars, they could go watch it on Netflix.”
Hopes for diversity in the entertainment and film industry are strong, and it is only expected to keep growing.