So, here’s a question: what exactly is a foreign language? How many people have to speak it before it can be considered ‘local’? 560,000 people speak Welsh in the UK, but nearly as many people speak Polish. Arguably most speakers of the latter immigrated in the 21st century, but what, then, of the nearly 300,000 Punjabi speakers, many second-and third-generation Brits, who dwarf the 600 or so Cornish speakers – but still have their language deemed ‘foreign’?
Questions like this are at the heart of the victory of Minari in the recent Golden Globes. A largely Korean-language film, Minari is in nearly every other way an American film. The director was born in Denver, while star Steven Yuen was raised in the US from age five. Both production companies were American, and production occurred mostly in Tulsa. Now, none of these are negatives – they just make you wonder if the mere fact that people are speaking ‘not English’ in a film is enough to make it ‘foreign’.
The Minari controversy was by far the most notable debate around this year’s Golden Globes, which otherwise featured a series of fairly uncontroversial picks and predictable fabulous dresses on the ‘virtual red carpet’ (Amanda Seyfried’s salmon gown harkened to the silent era; Cynthia Erivo’s eye-catching neon creation could only be haute coutre of the COVID era).
The late, beloved Chadwick Boseman was recognized for his work in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, while Borat somehow managed to scoop a gong over Hamilton. The Crown pipped The Mandalorian, and Star Wars fans around the world fired up their lightsabres (seriously – The Mandalorian should have won). While the understated and elegant Nomadland took Best Picture, the real satisfaction of the evening was the victory of the excellent The Queen’s Gambit, and its star Anya Taylor-Joy. After her bewitching turn (sorry) in The Witch, the young British actress refined her mesmerizing snake-stare to new levels of penetration in this extraordinary series about a young female chess prodigy in the 1950s and 1960s. Lavishly made, beautifully outfitted, and uncompromising in its commitment to the beauty of the noble game, The Queen’s Gambit is one of the best pieces of television made in the last ten years and you should stop what you’re doing right now and watch it.
As you might be pondering about this year’s Golden Globe awards, its at times bizarre online conferencing style, and of course the movies and show you will be watching soon, we are already looking forward to the Oscars 2021.
*by Subo Wijeyeratne