Critics can debate just how diverse the 2023 Oscars really were. Alongside a record number of winners of ethnically Chinese and Indian decent — including Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, director-screenwriter Daniel Kwan and producer Jonathan Wang for Everything Everywhere All At Once, and a best song trophy for “Naatu Naatu” composer M.M. Keeravaani and lyricist Chandrabose — the 95th Academy Awards includes just a single Black winner, costume designer Ruth Carter, who picked up her second Oscar for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and just one Oscar for a Latino filmmaker, going to Mexican director Guillermo del Toro for his animated feature Pinocchio.
On one measure, however, the 2023 Oscars get top marks. This year’s event was one of the most globally diverse in the event’s history.
Winners in 13 of 24 Oscar categories hailed from outside the U.S. — 15 if you include Ke Huy Quan, (who was born in Vietnam and immigrated as a child to the U.S. with his family) and best actor winner Brendan Fraser (born in the U.S. to Canadian parents).
When it comes to nominations, it’s just about an even split between U.S. and international nominees, with 63 American nominations across all categories, compared to 62 international.
The top two acting categories were majority non-U.S. For best actress, Malaysian star Yeoh beat out Cate Blanchett (Australian), Andrea Riseborough (English) and Ana de Armas (Cuban), as well as the sole U.S. contender, Michelle Williams. For best actor, Fraser was up against Austin Butler, an American, but also Colin Farrell (Irish), Bill Nighy (English) and Paul Mescal (Northern Irish).
Best cinematography was an all-international affair, with English cameraman James Friend taking the Oscar for Edward Berger’s German film All Quiet on the Western Front, ahead of fellow Brit Roger Deakins for Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light, Iranian-French cinematographer Darius Khondji for lensing Alejandro G. Iñárritu Mexican epic Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, Australia’s Mandy Walker for Baz Lurhmann’s Elvis and Germany’s Florian Hoffmeister for Tar from director Todd Field.
International contenders made up a majority of nominees in several other categories, including best editing (4 of 5 nominees), best hair and make-up (3 of 5) and best live-action short, which was another entirely international affair, with all five nominees, including eventual winner, An Irish Goodbye, hailing from outside America.
Then, of course, there was the best picture race, which included, alongside U.S. winner Everything Everywhere All At Once, All Quiet on the Western Front (German), The Banshees of Inisherin (Irish) and Triangle of Sadness, a truly global film from Swedish director Ruben Östlund with a cast and production partners hailing from nearly a dozen countries. Add to that two studio films directed by non-Americans, Elvis from Australian Baz Luhrmann and Women Talking by Canadian Sarah Polley, and the globalization of the Oscars begins to look complete.
But, actually, this is nothing new. The international Oscar tally has been in the double digits for the last five years, and trophies for both the 2021 and 2018 Academy Awards were evenly split between U.S. and international winners.
This can be seen, in part, as a result of the sweeping changes adopted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2016 to broaden and diversify its voting base. While a main focus of the effort, taken in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite uproar, was to increase the number of women and non-white Academy members, a byproduct of the Academy’s diversity push has been a huge increase in the number of its members who are based outside of America: up from 12 percent in 2015 to more than 25 percent, with 75 countries across six continents now represented.
Hollywood, of course, has a long history of scouting the best in global talent on screen, from Mary Pickford, and Charlie Chaplin, Audrey Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich, Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant; as well as behind the camera. Long before the studios embraced Iñárritu, Luhrmann, Mendes and Polley, they opened their arms to everyone from New Zealander Peter Jackson, Canadian James Cameron, and Germany’s Wolfgang Petersen, to Taiwan’s Ang Lee, Dutch director Paul Verhoeven and Czech filmmaker Miloš Forman. If you include such golden age directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Douglas Sirk, Ernst Lubitsch and Fritz Lang, it’s difficult to find a time when Hollywood wasn’t awash with ex-pats.
What has changed though is U.S. audiences.
“Look at Parasite, a Korean film, winning best picture, at The Artist, which is French, even if there’s no dialog, or Japan’s Drive My Car,” says Malte Grunert, producer of All Quiet on the Western Front, which won four Oscars on Sunday. “There certainly seems to be a change in terms of audience resonance to films that are not in the English language. I think that’s partly due to theatrical films but mainly because of international series on streamers, because of the success of Netflix’s Narcos, Money Heist or Dark — international shows that sort of opened the way and created a willingness, even a desire, to see films or series in an original language or with subtitles. It’s entirely different than it was 20 years ago.”
The international trend is only going one way. Netflix is doubling down on its international productions. With subscriber figures stagnant in the U.S., it is Europe, now the streamer’s biggest region by subscribers, Asia and Latin America where the streamer hopes to grow its audience, and it needs home-grown stories to do so. International box office, which dipped sharply during COVID, has not fully bounced back, but the pre-pandemic balance of power, where a typical film earned around 70 percent of its theatrical take coming outside the U.S., is quickly reestablishing itself. Of this year’s best picture nominees, only three — Everything Everywhere All At Once, Elvis, and Women Talking — made more money domestically than internationally. The global take for Tar and The Banshees of Inisherin was three times that of their U.S. box office. For Triangle of Sadness it was four times as much.
It’s not so much that the Oscars went international in 2023 but that they, and the film industry in general, have been going global for quite some time now.