Feb. 9, 2021, 10:46 AM CST
By Diep Tran
Steven Yeun has seen your outcry over "Minari"'s being placed in the foreign language film category at the Golden Globes, and he is appreciative.
In many ways, the film and the ensuing protest highlight what many people think is the Asian American experience — walking the line between two cultures and not having a solid footing in either. But Yeun said the reality is more complicated — that Asian America can be its own third identity, separate from Asian and American. "We live in this isolated, liminal space. And that's all right," Yeun said over Zoom.
"Minari," about a Korean American family's putting down roots in Arkansas in the 1980s, is primarily in Korean, and it is made by an American director and an American production company. So when the news came that it was eligible to compete only in the best foreign language film category and not best film because of the multilingual script, people objected online.
Yeun said the rule shows a lack of recognition of America's diversity: Many Americans speak multiple languages.
"We can't expect rules and institutions to really capture the nuance and the complexity of real life — that America is not just shaped by the English language. It's actually a confluence of so many things," Yeun said. "I think for us to have made something that is challenging these notions and attempting, hopefully, to expand the understanding of what these things are, that's great. I'm glad people are waking up to it."
Yeun plays a man from Korea named Jacob, who dreams of going beyond his job in a chicken factory. He wants to own a farm and to sell Korean fruits and vegetables to the Korean community. "Every year 30,000 Koreans move to the United States. Wouldn't they miss Korean food?" he tells his daughter.
"Minari," which won the Grand Jury Prize and an Audience Award when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year, comes with enthusiastic early buzz. It has earned Yeun a Screen Actors Guild nomination for outstanding performance by a male actor in a leading role; he is the first Asian American to be nominated in that category. The film will have a theatrical release on Friday and then be available on demand on Feb. 26.
"Minari" was written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, who based it on his own family, who owned a farm in Arkansas.