How does the category separation of Western and international acts in award shows impact these acts and our perception of them?
Red carpet extravaganzas. Hordes of press. Celebrities dressed to impress. Award show season never fails to receive the excitement and attention of audiences across the nation, but that doesn’t mean it is exempt from its own share of criticism and controversy. While there have been several attempts to fight xenophobia in the entertainment industry, award shows continue to exacerbate the issue by creating separate categories for foreign artists.
Despite being considered one of the biggest and highest-paid boy bands in the world by several media outlets, including Forbes, Korean group Bangtan Sonyeondan (BTS) was placed in a bracket separate from the Artist of the Year and Song of the Year nominees during the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), instead taking home trophies for categories specifically made for K-pop. BTS’s record-breaking career and widespread international success should have earned the group a place alongside Western artists, and the failure to do so demonstrates award shows’ xenophobic undertones.
i mean bts literally broke the youtube record but sure https://t.co/BFhnaY7WMC
— lucy ford⁷ (@lucyj_ford) July 23, 2019
The Best Latin Pop and Best K-pop categories in music award shows are just another reflection of the tendency to belittle foreign entertainers, preserving the idea of Western privilege and superiority. In fear of foreign artists outshining American ones, industry executives implement regulations like the “50% rule” — which prohibits films with less than 50% English dialogue from competing in major categories — and create categories for international acts to limit the number of awards these artists can compete for. This system reinforces the idea of “American exceptionalism,” or the belief that American values are more desirable and keep domestic artists in demand, as shown by the dominance of white leads and artists in the Billboard Hot 100.
The same can be said for films. At the 2020 Golden Globes, Korean film Parasite took home the Best Foreign Language Film award but did not qualify for Best Drama because it contains more than 50% non-English dialogue. This same rule applied to Chinese film The Farewell, which failed to qualify for the Best Comedy category. Because of prejudiced regulations, movies that could contend for awards are not even given the chance. This causes audiences to view the worth of a film as dependent on the language it is in, breeding a xenophobic mentality.
Parasite made Academy history by taking home Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best International Feature Film at the Oscars, but the movie continues to be subject to racist criticism. Regarding Director Bong Joon Ho’s acceptance speech and Parasite’s wins, Conservative BlazeTV Reporter Jon Miller said, “These people are the destruction of America,” and President Donald Trump said, “The winner is a movie from South Korea, what the hell was that all about?” When foreign films finally receive proper recognition and win in major categories, they are attacked and berated, perpetuating a toxic cycle of racism and bigotry.
This establishment of brackets pushes the public to perceive international artists as inferior and unable to compete in the same categories as Western nominees due to language differences. Instead of breaking down the barriers that segregate entertainers in the industry, this practice raises new obstacles that make it harder for foreign artists to climb the charts. American acts are placed on a raised platform, creating a subconscious rift in viewers’ minds; people use the popularity of Western acts to justify putting down international ones. Depriving those who speak foreign languages of equity normalizes xenophobia, influencing the actions of audiences across the nation.
I’m actually sick. If a british boyband had BTS numbers & artistry… do you think they’d make a “brit-pop” category? It’s so blatant
— iona (@kimsnamu) July 23, 2019
Although the industry has made significant improvements in representation and diversity, award shows still display intense xenophobia by alienating foreign acts and artists. Instead of dividing foreign and American acts, award shows should place them in the same category, competing for the same awards, to end the xenophobic bias behind categorization. At the end of the day, foreign artists are artists like any others; they should not be judged differently just because of the country they come from or the language they speak.
Graphic by Web Editor Gregory Wu