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No, there is no bias against foreigners at the Oscars

February 20, 2009 |  2:50 pm

At this year's Oscars there are only three foreign-born folk among the 20 acting nominees: lead actress contender Kate Winslet ("The Reader") and supporting players Heath Ledger ("The Dark Knight") and Penelope Cruz ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona"). However, that does not mean the Oscars are guilty of any home-grown bias. After all, those three are the front-runners in their races. And last year all four acting winners came from foreign shores.

While Daniel Day-Lewis ("There Will Be Blood") and Tilda Swinton ("Michael Clayton") were just the latest two of the 36 English actors to win Oscars, Marion Cotillard ("La Vie en Rose") made Oscars history by giving the first French-language performance to be so honored while Javier Bardem ("No Country for Old Men") was the first Spanish performer to win an Oscar.

That marked the second time in Oscars history that all four acting champs hailed from outside the United States. The first was back in 1964 when the winners were three Brits — Rex Harrison ("My Fair Lady"), Julie Andrews ("Mary Poppins"), and Peter Ustinov ("Topkapi") — and Russian born Lila Kedrova ("Zorba the Greek").

Foreign_oscars

The Oscars rolled out the the welcome mat at the very first ceremony in 1929 when Swiss-born Emil Jannings won lead actor for his performances in "The Last Command" and "The Way of All Flesh." And three of the first four lead actresses came from Canada — Mary Pickford ("Coquette"), Norma Shearer ("The Divorcee"), and Marie Dressler ("Min and Bill").

One of our most prolific forum posters, the aptly named Academy Awards Guru, has compiled a list of the nationalities of all 265 Oscar winners for acting. During the course of 80 ceremonies, they have won 306 Oscars (there has been one tie in each of lead actor and lead actress). Of these, 77 winners came from outside the USA to take home 87 Oscars. While 22 other countries have produced Oscar winners, it is not surprising that England leads with 36 of her citizens winning 42 Oscars.

Over the last 80 years at the Oscars, lead actor has gone to a non-American 24 times and lead actress 25 times while in the 72-year history of the supporting awards, non-Americans won supporting actor 20 times and supporting actress 18 times.

In the following list, the Oscar-winning actors are listed under the country with which they are most associated with their birthplace given when it differs. In addition, those actors who were born elsewhere but raised primarily in the USA are not included, such as Elizabeth Taylor born in England, Claudette Colbert in France, sisters Joan Fontaine and Olivia DeHavilland in Japan, Anthony Quinn in Mexico, and Paul Muni in the Ukraine.

Australia
Cate Blanchett
Russell Crowe (born in New Zealand; family emigrated when he was 4)
Peter Finch (born in England; family returned to Australia when he was 7)
Nicole Kidman (born in the U.S.; family returned to Australia when she was 4)
Geoffrey Rush

Austria
Joseph Schildkraut

Belgium
Audrey Hepburn

Cambodia
Haing S. Ngor

Canada
Marie Dressler
Walter Huston
Mary Pickford
Harold Russell
Norma Shearer

England
Julie Andrews
George Arliss
Peggy Ashcroft
Jim Broadbent
Michael Caine
Julie Christie (born in India; family returned to England when she was 7)
Ronald Colman
Donald Crisp
Daniel Day-Lewis
Judi Dench
Greer Garson
John Gielgud
Alec Guinness
Edmund Gwenn
Rex Harrison
Wendy Hiller
Jeremy Irons
Glenda Jackson
Ben Kingsley
Charles Laughton
Vivien Leigh (born in India; family returned to England when she was 6)
Victor McLaglen
Helen Mirren
John Mills
David Niven
Laurence Olivier
Vanessa Redgrave
Margaret Rutherford
George Sanders (born in Russia; family returned to England when he was 11)
Paul Scofield
Maggie Smith
Tilda Swinton
Jessica Tandy
Emma Thompson
Peter Ustinov
Rachel Weisz

France
Juliette Binoche
Marion Cotillard
Simone Signoret (born in Germany; family emigrated when she was 3)

Germany
Luise Rainer

Greece
Katina Paxinou

Hungary
Paul Lukas

Ireland
Barry Fitzgerald
Brenda Fricker

Italy
Roberto Benigni
Sophia Loren
Anna Magnani

Japan
Miyoshi Umeki

Mexico
Anthony Quinn

New Zealand
Anna Paquin (born in Canada; family emigrated when she was 4)

Puerto Rico
Benicio Del Toro
Jose Ferrer

Russia
Yul Brynner
Lila Kedrova

Scotland
Sean Connery

South Africa
Charlize Theron

Spain
Javier Bardem

Sweden
Ingrid Bergman

Switzerland
Emil Jannings
Maximilian Schell (born in Austria; family emigrated when he was 8)

Wales
Hugh Griffith
Anthony Hopkins
Ray Milland
Catherine Zeta-Jones

(Photos: AMPAS)

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Comments

True, but there seems to be a bias against Asian and African countries (Charlize Theron does not count)

This is true. There aren't as many foreigners or minorities nominated this year simply because the honmegrown and mostly white talent gave the most awards-worthy performances in the most awards-worthy films.

The only categories where you might notice some anti-foreigner bias this year are Best Actress, where Brits Sally Hawkins and Kristin Scott Thomas were sidelined in favor of Leo and Jolie, and in Supporting Actor, where Michael Shannon took Dev Patel's spot. But admittedly there were other factors in each of these cases (perhaps the least so with Thomas, who was genuinely under-acknowledged this year for a little-seen foreign-language performance).

As with many problems, they are rooted in the American-centric nature of the industry itself. You can't blame Angelina Jolie for giving a performance the Academy deemed nomination-worthy in Clint Eastwood's highly anticipated Changeling. But you can blame Eastwood and the producers and casting for not choosing a foreign actor had one been considered better for the part. But then every time a foreigner plays an American in an American Oscar movie, you get criticism from the other side, that an American just as easily (and deservedly) could have played that part.


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