Photo: Marion Cotillard at the 2008 Oscars (Vince Bucci/Getty Images)

Casual moviegoers who tune into this Sunday’s Oscar broadcast might be particularly surprised by one name in the Best Actress category: Isabelle Huppert. The Parisian-born French star was nominated for her turn in the French psychological thriller comedy Elle. And she joins the ranks of the less than four percent of international actors nominated for an Oscar for work in a foreign-language film. Film journalist Leigh Singer digs into that short history of foreign-language acting at the Oscars in a new video for Fandor.


Singer’s video points out that while international actors have a good chance of winning for performances in American-made English-language films (think Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained or Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men), earning a nod for a foreign-language performance is much harder. In fact Sophia Loren, Marion Cotillard, and Roberto Benigni remain the only three actors to win Oscars for foreign-language performances in foreign films. (For those curious, Wikipedia actually has a whole page on foreign-language Oscar nominees.)

Singer acknowledges that the Academy Awards have always been designed to promote the U.S. film industry, so the lack of foreign acting nominations isn’t a complete surprise. And, of course, plenty of international film actors have had stellar careers even without the Oscar’s seal of approval. But in an accompanying post she writes, “Given the Oscars’ cultural prominence, such recognition isn’t so much for the individual in question as for a more inclusive, global perspective on cinematic excellence.” Singer continues:

It’s not about racism or nationalism per se (right?), but in times of growing insularity and intolerance, pushing against borders in any shape or form is a positive thing. In the past 10 years, foreign-language acting Oscar nominations have been on the rise. It’d be nice if that could be one trend not to be trumped by recent world events.


You can watch the video above and read the full piece on Fandor.