By Declan Harris
“Parasite” follows the Kim family as they cheat the system to climb the South Korean social ladder. Recently, foreign-language films have also started climbing the film industry ladder, showing that they’ve always been here and are here to stay.
“Parasite” directed by Bong Joon-ho, won the Oscar for Best Picture this year, making it the first foreign film to receive the award.
Besides winning Best Picture, the film also snagged three other awards: Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film.
The film has also taken home two awards from the British Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) events and won a Golden Globe for foreign language film.
As Humphrey Bogart tells Claude Rains in the 1942 classic film “Casablanca,” “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
DCCC Communications Professor Maria Boyd says that when looking to the future, it’s important to look at the past.
“In the past, there have been times in history when mainstream audiences have had a more mainstream interest in subtitled films,” Boyd said, “The barrier of watching a film that isn’t in the language that you speak and you have to learn to read the film as you watch.”
DCCC English Professor Eartha Holley who teaches a course in film language, discussed how American audiences have a tougher time when viewing foreign language films due to the obstacle of the language not being their own.
“I still think any foreign film has that language barrier,” Holley said, “and Americans are really dug in on foreign languages. They feel confronted by them. They feel insulted that I have to put down my language and have to learn another one.”
In the past decade, two films with subtitles besides “Parasite” have received nominations for Best Picture at the Oscars: 2012’s “Amour” and 2018’s “Roma.” Amour was a French film, and Roma was a Spanish film.
In both instances, the subtitled films came up short at award shows.
Even if the films are nominated for awards, one of the bigger questions that remains is how profitable they will be. Most theaters aren’t willing to show films that aren’t going to make them money.
Boyd explained that the screening of foreign films is solely dependent on the audience and the pockets of those that are willing to see it.
“I used to live in Atlanta, which has a large population of people who are from India, so the local movie theaters in the area would screen films from Bollywood,” Boyd said, referring to India’s entertainment industry.
Despite the language barrier, Holley said that in America there will always be an audience for foreign language films.
“Something like ‘Parasite’ might be prying open the door for more foreign films,” Holley added.
“There will always be pockets, groups of people, and niche audiences that the films will find an audience for.”
Another way Hollywood is being affected by international industries is by adapting foreign mediums to English and releasing them here.
One example would be Martin Scorsese’s 2008 film, “The Departed.” The film, adapted from the Hong Kongese film “Infernal Affairs” and directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, was nominated for multiple awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Holley said other countries adapted movies from the United States.
This isn’t only happening in the movie industry; the television industry is also seeing a big boom from foreign entertainment industries.
In more recent years, streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have sections dedicated to add foreign films and television shows.
“Young people who get their content through streaming can watch Korean soap operas and watch Chinese action films,” Boyd said.
Over the past two decades, shows from different countries have found a way into American entertainment mainstream.
“American television draws heavily from TV shows that originated in countries around the world,” Boyd said in a recent email. “Most of our most popular shows including ‘Friends’ and ‘The Office’ (two favorites among my students) began as British series.”
In his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, Joon-ho commented on the importance of overcoming the language barrier that comes with watching a foreign film.
“Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” Bong Joon-ho said.
Contact Declan Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org