For the movies, is global inclusion possible?
Utopian as that might sound—the idea of letting the whole world in– it is clearly a goal of the newly awakened Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The introduction to the Academy’s RAISE platform, an online portal used to screen Oscar Best Picture contenders for inclusiveness, states the case in bold terms. “The representation and inclusion standards are designed to encourage equitable representation on and off screen to better reflect the diverse global population,” it says.
In reaching for universal access, the Academy has already expanded its non-U.S. membership, recruiting filmmakers and executives from around the world. No accident that Parasite, from South Korea, was named Best Picture in 2020, or that Beijing-born Chloe Zhao was Best Director the next year.
That’s globalism at work.
But how, exactly, are hundreds and hundreds of individual films—each of which tells a specific story, about specific characters, necessarily limited in time and space—supposed to ingest this goal of reflecting the global population? The world is a very large place. It is, indeed, very diverse. Only the biggest and most fanciful films—say, Zhao’s Eternals, with its large, multi-ethnic cast—can take more than a very small bite of the globe without shattering the localized cultural context on which a story depends for its impact.
Belfast is a Northern Irish story. Licorice Pizza is American. Drive My Car is Japanese. No picture among them is a study in global diversity. Each is a piece of culturally specific art that contributes only its own narrowly drawn concerns to the grand mosaic of world cinema.
But there’s nothing wrong with that.
On Tuesday, when the Academy’s shortlist of Best International Feature contenders is announced, we’ll view a wonderfully diverse menu of films, all of them rooted in a specific national culture, few of them calculated to embrace “the diverse global population” (though most will show the usual criss-cross of international film business connections). A Hero, one candidate for the list, is Iranian, with mostly Iranian cast and crew. The Worst Person In The World is Norwegian, with Norwegian language and talent. Very little about Drive My Car is un-Japanese, other than, possibly, the Chekhov subplot.
Those movies derive their power—and their truly international character—from a particular national and ethnic framework and identity.
It’s okay. To be anything, you must first be something. And that applies as much to All-American teen escapades in the San Fernando Valley (Licorice Pizza) as to the travails of a Kosovan beekeeper (Hive). No matter what the somewhat Utopian Academy global inclusion platform may say.
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