Oscar: Nationalism or Chauvinism–the Academy Vs. Cannes Fest

Despite a strong international dimension, periodically, the Academy is charged with “chauvinism,” or with favoring American over foreign artists. The question of just how distinctly American the Oscar is, compared with other prestigious prizes, (such as the New York Film Critics Awards). is therefore an intriguing one.

Not surprisingly, American players have dominated both forums. The Oscar is more of an American award (about 70 percent of all winners) than the New York Film Critics Award (60 percent). British players have occupied the second place in both contests, but their presence is stronger in the New York Film Critics than in the Oscar race.

In both organizations, there is more diversity among the female winners. Among the women cited by the New York Film Critics Circle and the Academy are Italians (Anna Magnani and Sophia Loren), and French (twotime nominee Isabelle Adjani and Catherine Deneuve, for Indochine) actresses.

Norma Aleandro became the first South American actress to be nominated for an Oscar for Gaby–A True Story, an Argentinean movie. By that time, Aleandro was a known quantity in America, having starred in The Official Story, which won the 1985 Best ForeignLanguage Picture. Noted Brazilian actress, Fernanda Montengero, joined Aleandro’s ranks, when she received a Best Actress nomination in 1998 for Central Satation.

Some of the Oscar’s greatest “losers” are foreign-born actresses who have won multiple awards from the New York Film Critics Circle. The British actress Deborah Kerr, a sixtime Oscar nominee, has won three New York Film Critics Awards: for Black Narcissus, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, and The Sundowners.


Swedish icon Garbo, a three-time Oscar nominee, was cited twice by the New York Film Critics Circle, for Anna Karenina and Camille. Liv Ullmann, Ingmar Bergman’s quintessential actress, has earned two Oscar nominations and three New York Film Critics citations, for Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage, and Face to Face.

No such striking cases exist among the men, though two British winners of the New York Film Critics Circle were not even nominated for their performances: Ralph Richardson, singled out for his performance in Breaking the Sound Barrier, and John Gielgud for Providence. Both actors were nominated by the Academy for other performances, and Gielgud won the Supporting Oscar for Arthur.

Cannes Politics

In most film festivals, nationalistic considerations do play a role beyond the quality of the competing performances. In 1980, a furor arose in the Cannes Festival, when Peter Sellers’s brilliant performance in Being There was overlooked by the jury for reasons that apparently had nothing to do with its distinction or merits. Kirk Douglas, the jury’s president, was furious when his colleagues chose Michel Piccoli and Anouk Aimee (both for Marco Bellocchio’s Leap Into the Void), because they felt it was time for French performers to win.

The Cannes acting prize is not an isolated incident. In other years too, political considerations have played a crucial role in determining the final winners. Critics felt that the motive for awarding the 1975 Palm d’Or to an Algerian film, Chronicle of the Burning Years, was based on political reasons: Algeria–and Third World cinema in general–had been vastly underrepresented. Similarly, rumors circulated on the Croisette that Roman Polanski’s The Pianist won the 2002 Cannes’ Palme D’Or due to its subject matter–a personal film about the Holocaust–and the fact that it was considered a comebcak for the Polish director, who has not made a good or interesting work since Tess, twenty two years ago.


The greater number of ties at the Cannes Film Festival also attests to political compromising in the making of choices. In 1979, the Cannes Jury conferred the Palm d’Or on both the German picture The Tin Drum and the American Apocalypse Now. In 1980, a tie was declared between the Japanese film, Kagemusha, by Akira Kurosawa, and the American entry, Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz. By contrast, there has never been a tie in the Best Picture Oscar.

All film forums and film juries are biased in their choices–that’s the nature of awards determined by majority vote. Yet an argument can be made that the disagreements within a particular voting group, and the disparity among the various groups, play an important and positive role in calling attention to the multiple criteria–artistic, ideological, political, and even religious–in evaluating such a complex yet popular art form as film.