While some might assume that international films lauded by the Academy represent a true variety of cultures from the global film industry, the actual rules set by the Academy for those films are very exclusionary.
The Academy's current guidelines as of April 2019 for the International Feature Film category (previously called the Foreign Language Film category) are that the film is made outside the United States with "a predominantly non-English dialogue track."
At first glance, this definition doesn't look problematic. If anything, the Academy attempting to expose a national audience to a wide variety of films that may face linguistic borders is a noble goal.
In practice, the Academy's guidelines overlook a wide spectrum of dozens of countries and territories where English is relegated as the official language. Nigeria learned about this snag the hard way when the country's first entry into the International Feature Film category, "Lionheart," was disqualified for having majority English dialogue, according to NPR.
"Considering that Nigeria's official language is English, I think it is unfair to impose a language restriction that would essentially bar the country's films from getting nominated for an Oscar," said Nishanth Ramasubramanian, a sophomore film and television production major. "Especially with the award being retitled 'Best International Feature Film,' the language should not matter. English does not belong just to American cinema."
"Lionheart" wasn't completely English; the same NPR piece noted that around 16% of the film was in Igbo. Igbo is just one major language out of the over 500 languages spoken in Nigeria that's being threatened by English's predominance in education and culture, according to DW News.
It's important to preserve languages, like Igbo, and encourage more art to come from cultures and places that long haven't had a say in how they're represented in their local media, let alone to international audiences. More effort needs to be put into finding communities like Uganda's Wakaliwood Luganda-language films as a benefit to both those communities and the film world at large.
However, denying films from countries because they happen to speak English as a dominant language denies these films the right to circuit, based on one factor of the culture they came from. A Nigerian film, an Australian film and a Belizean film might all share the same language, but they're still the individual expressions of film-makers who've definitely had different experiences from one another.
Keep in mind this is only part of the Academy's language problem, the other being the U.S. caveat. Despite the efforts of bigoted politicians like Rep. Steve King (R-IA) to make English the official language of the U.S., we currently enjoy no official language at the federal level.
Our country has over 300 of both immigrant and native languages ranging from Spanish to Dakota to Turkish to Cherokee, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Any opportunity for these languages to show up in films, whether big or small, must be taken.
The film and television production program here at LMU might be the perfect place to see diversity of language and culture in the local film community, especially as it relates with cultural exchange.
"I actually have seen a decent amount of diversity within the LMU film community," remarked Dylan Rivers, a sophomore recording arts major. "Many of the students I have worked with on set or in class are international, specifically from east Asia. There is more diversity within the film school compared to the rest of the University."
"I have found the film majors to be quite internationally diverse here," commented Ramasubramanian. "One thing I have noticed is that a lot of international film students tend to work mostly with one another. While I think there is value in international students supporting one another, I also think it is important for American and international filmmakers to collaborate."
What the Academy needs to realize is that languages should not restrict how films make their way to American audiences. The burgeoning international community in LMU's film program might be a good place to start looking for inspiration.
This is the opinion of Cristobal Spielmann, a sophomore environmental science major from Brentwood, Tennessee. Tweet comments @LALoyolan or email firstname.lastname@example.org.