‘Minari’ solidifies its status as an American film

Screenshot courtesy of YouTube

By Dana Sung
Boston University News Service

As Hollywood desperately tries to catch up with diversity issues they have been facing for too long, smaller production companies are releasing movies with diverse leads left and right. It seems to be working.

Minari,” released in late January, features an all-Asian cast and lead. It won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and received 10 nominations for Critic Choice Awards, winning the Best Young Performer and Best Foreign Language categories. 

The film has also been nominated for Oscars in multiple categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Original Score.

However, the  “Best Foreign Language Film” Golden Globe award sparked some controversy. Some questioned its status as a foreign language film, as “Minari” has an American storyline, an Asian-American director and was co-produced by American companies. However, according to the Hollywood Foreign Film Association’s rules, a film is considered foreign if 50% of the dialogue is in another language.

“Minari” tells a story of Korean-American family, navigating their new lives in rural Arkansas. The film captures the point of view of three generations: the grandmother, freshly immigrated from South Korea, Jacob and Monica Yi, the immigrant parents and David and Anne, the first-generation Korean-Americans children. 

The family faces many challenges. Financial struggle is a recurring theme in the movie. The viewer soon learns that Jacob and Monica kept the family afloat by being sexers on a chicken farm. Their move to Arkansas — and their farm — is everything they have left. 

As Jacob tries to reaffirm his status as a breadwinner of the family by navigating financial burdens, Monica struggles to keep the family together. It is quite apparent from the beginning that Monica isn’t happy with the move. However, she ultimately wants what is best for her kids, even if that means overlooking Jacob’s ego and stubbornness to prove his place as the man of the family.

David and Anne go through their own set of struggles. Aside from the obvious racism that they face in a racially homogenous community, they clash with their grandmother fairly often. This clash is amplified in David’s circumstance. The obvious language and cultural barrier between the two are often utilized as comic relief. It is also used as a vessel, highlighting the film’s overarching theme of adaptability and individuality in an intergenerational family.

Adaptability is not a theme that is explored in this movie, but it is the root of the film’s name. Minari, sometimes referred to as water celery, is a type of plant that is native to East Asia. Known for its adaptability and vitality in harsh terrains and temperatures, it is a staple herb and vegetable in Korean cuisine. Minari usually takes about a year to grow to its full potential. The title of this movie represents the adaptability and vitality of a Korean-American immigrant family in rural Arkansas. This is a familiar story and theme for not only Korean-Americans, but all immigrants chasing their own versions of the “American dream.”

Perhaps the real beauty of the film lies in the fact that “Minari” isn’t about a single individual: it is about finding home and what it means to be home to each of them.

Despite the awards for Best Foreign Film, “Minari” is an American drama. While it is not the cookie-cutter American film, perfected with a white family living in a neighborhood of white-picket fences, it paints a special picture of the Yi family’s path to their version American dream. What could be more American than that?

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