Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Opinion | Hop over that ‘1-inch-tall barrier’ and enjoy foreign films

CW File

American interest in foreign films has never been high, with very few films ever breaking the barrier of Americentric views, the modern attention deficit, and the preference for blockbuster films over art-house cinema.

And odds are, you have been missing out on some of the best experiences that cinema has to offer.

During awards season, most foreign films are relegated to a category specifically for foreign films: the best international feature film.

The most notable foreign film to appear at the Academy Awards and the first non-English film in the last decade to take home the big prize, the best picture award, was “Parasite” (2019). The film won six Oscars, including both best picture and best international feature film. 

An art-house thriller, “Parasite” explores the universal, human themes of class and status.

Creating an art-house film means dealing with a much smaller budget and targeting very niche markets, often more as a form of expression than marketed to the masses. It means veering away from the mainstream path to portray a vision uniquely. In contrast, blockbuster films have Hollywood’s biggest budgets and its biggest stars at their disposal. 

But the amount of money put into making a movie doesn’t signify anything about its quality, or even necessarily how many people will watch it. The average American movie production budget is $65 million with a marketing budget of $35 million. “Parasite,” however, had a budget of only $11 million.

Until the success of “Parasite,” non-U.S. titles rarely had the confidence to campaign in other categories as well. Or even the money, considering the $20,000 price tag for submitting to categories outside of the international feature film. For smaller movies, $20,000 could account for half of an awards-campaign budget.

It’s not just a money issue, though. The Oscars have historically been distributed by notably old, white men in the voting room, but in 2016, the academy announced it would take steps to double the number of women and minority members by 2020. With a more global group of members, we’ve begun to see more global films nominated for big awards. 

During his acceptance speech for best international feature film, Bong Joon-ho, director of “Parasite,” joked with viewers that “once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you’ll be introduced to so many amazing films.” I like to think the academy heard him out.

Why have Americans overlooked foreign films? It’s not from a lack of beautiful and original storytelling or visual appeal; it’s the looming threat of paying attention. Studies have shown that younger generations are more likely to consume media they will have to read than older generations, but many people still don’t want to read while watching a movie. 

Movies and their methods of storytelling are more than just dialogue. Movies are encapsulating experiences, blurring lines between what’s being told to the viewer subconsciously and what’s being said out loud. Body language and expressions can translate most messages without any auditory components.

Camera angles, settings, color choices, every decision made on the set of a movie are specifically curated to evoke an emotion and move a storyline forward. Most art forms operate under a “show, don’t tell” methodology anyway.

I think an aversion to subtitles is normal for some people who prefer different methods of storytelling, but subtitles aren’t as scary as they seem.

You can experience all the same feelings you have when relating to a character who speaks your language if you’re just willing to open up to a new style of art apparently so far removed.

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