Why aren’t British films considered foreign by the Oscars?
Yesterday I was reading this article from LiveScience.com called “Why Do Americans and Brits Have Different Accents?” (h/t Gwynne Garfinkle). It’s a question I’ve thought randomly through the years but never researched.
What’s surprising, though, is that Hollywood costume dramas get it all wrong: The Patriots and the Redcoats spoke with accents that were much closer to the contemporary American accent than to the Queen’s English. It is the standard British accent that has drastically changed in the past two centuries, while the typical American accent has changed only subtly.
So wait, all these films taking place in ancient Rome, Egypt, Germany….they didn’t have British accents in the 16th century? But seriously, it is sort of amusing that we spent all that energy to break free of the colonizers only to later take on their accents as the standard norm for period pieces. This also reminded me of a question our blog has gotten in the past: with regards to the Oscars, why aren’t British films considered foreign?
Well, simply put, the full name for the category is actually “Foreign Language Film”, not simply foreign film, so the film must be primarily in a language that is not English, and while most British films might be differently accented, it’s still technically English all around, so they generally don’t qualify. But it’s actually a reasonable mistake to make, since the category is considered a win for the entire country, not just the director, producers, etc., so I can see why the question gets thought. It’s also confusing because American movies that aren’t primarily in English can’t apply. It must be foreign-made, foreign-released (an American release is not necessary to qualify) and primarily in a different language. It used to be the foreign language had to be the one native to the country where the film was produced (e.g. filmed in Italy, dialogue is in Italian), but a few years ago they changed the rules to include non-dominant languages.
There have been a few exceptions through the years with British films getting nominated when the primary language of the movie was Welsh: Hedd Wyn (1992) and Solomon and Gaenor (1999). The latter was actually filmed twice – once in Welsh, once in English. And Canadian films have also been nominated too, at least those done in French, though the recent change in rule made it possible to nominate Deepa Metha’s Water (2005), a film in Hindi that is the final part of her Elements trilogy. So far American films not made in English are still left out in the cold, including films made in Puerto Rico, but here’s hoping the Academy has started to realize the narrowness and might create two categories – Best Foreign Film and Best Film Not In English (similar to the category used by BAFTA (aka British Oscars)) – which would be a small step in recognizing the broad range of movies made even inside the Unites States.