Photo Courtesy of Variety.

Minari and the Continued Othering of Asians

Watching the movie, I thought of myself and my extended family who moved abroad to seek this better life. Whether it's by skin color, looks, language or accent, there is no denying that we are continually othered by the countries we call home.

Mar 28, 2021

The combination of the A24 logo, an image of Steven Yeun and a Korean title — more than enough for me to click on the trailer of Minari. Two minutes later, I was sobbing uncontrollably and immediately rushed to let my family know that a movie finally told our story.
Minari articulates the beautiful story of a Korean immigrant family struggling to settle in rural Arkansas. The film shines an authentic light on the economic struggles and cultural and language barriers that immigrants have to endure as they build a new life in an unfamiliar country. Watching the movie, I thought of myself and my extended family who moved to the Gulf and the United States to seek this better life. We spent almost two decades apart, each family struggling to make ends meet and the adults desperately trying to create a permanent home for us, the children.
Although the entire film played like a B-roll of my family’s journey, one moment that truly stood out was the embrace between Monica and her mother. I could not help but remember the silent hug between my mother and grandmother last summer when they met for the first time in eight years. Although no words were spoken, a single touch from my grandmother was enough to signal the end of the difficult, lonely path my mother had embarked upon 18 years ago. Scrolling through tweets and Youtube comments, it was not surprising to find plenty of immigrants who felt the same way that I did; Minari is a reminder of the millions of immigrant families across the world that have bravely undertaken a similar journey in hopes of a better future.
Since its premiere, Minari was lauded by critics for its authentic storytelling and exceptional filmmaking, with the film taking home the Grand Jury Prize and U.S Dramatic Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival. With the list of accolades expanding beyond expectations, the media immediately buzzed with anticipation for potential Oscar wins.
However, upon the announcement of the 78th Golden Globe Awards nominees, the conversation quickly shifted from the merits of the film to the outdated rules of the Golden Globes. The rules laid down by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association state that any film with at least 50 percent of non English dialogue is not eligible for the best musical, comedy or drama award. With most of the film spoken in Korean, Minari was therefore nominated in the foreign language category. But how can a film about an immigrant family in the U.S. with a mostly Asian-American cast, directed by an American and produced, financed, distributed by American film companies, be seen as foreign?
According to HFPA guidelines, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds should also have been nominated in the Foreign Language category. Only 30 percent of the dialogue was in English and the rest was dominated by French and German. Yet, the film was nominated for the Best Drama award in 2009, exposing the blatant hypocrisy of the HFPA.
English is not the official language of the United States. In fact, there is none. The characters of Minari accurately reflect a country where 21.6 percent of the population speak a language other than English at home. The discriminatory reception from the HFPA ultimately insinuates that Asian languages are not American and to a greater extent, that Asian-Americans do not truly belong in America.
Upon learning of Minari’s snub in the best picture category, Korean-American actor Daniel Dae Kim described it succinctly: “The film equivalent of being told to go back to your country when that country is actually America.”
In a turbulent climate with anti-Asian hate sentiments exacerbated by the outbreak of the pandemic, labelling an Asian-American film like Minari “foreign” calls for a further divide between Asian-Americans and the rest of the country.
In 2020 to 2021 only, there were 3,795 reported incidents of hate crimes against Asian-Americans, likely only a small fraction of all incidents. Since the start of the pandemic, the Trump administration used racist terms like “Kung Flu” and “Chinese Virus”. Regardless of their ethnicity, people were told to “get out of the country” and blamed for causing the virus, highlighting the uncomfortable truth about Asians in America. Whether it's by skin color, looks, language or accent, Asians are often othered by the countries they call home.
Growing up in Qatar, I didn’t have many Korean friends, and the few I did have always ended up moving back to their homes in Korea. And so, my parents remained the only genuine connection to my country, a family bubble maintained through the use of the Korean language.
From as early as I can remember, I dreaded parents’ evening at school, being sandwiched between my father and teachers and struggling to translate words with my limited Korean vocabulary. I was envious of the casual ease with which other parents carried conversations, simultaneously coping with the guilt that accompanied my embarrassment of my father’s broken English. I remember that the administrators at the school did not treat my parents with the same respect; they were undermined for their lacking English proficiency. To this day, my relationship with language remains one of my greatest insecurities. Saddled with the shame in having to use Google Translate or the fear that I might lose the Korean I know, calls with my parents sometimes end in tears.
My stories are only a small fragment of the experiences of Asians living abroad, just one of the infinite personal narratives of those who live in predominantly non-Asian countries. By switching between Korean and English, Minari aptly captures the identity of many Korean-Americans who find themselves lost between two communities.
Seo-Hee Hong is a Contributing Writer. Email her at
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