International relations is something that happens everyday in political life, but less noticeably, it exists in popular culture, including cinema, music, and literature. The fascinating peculiarity of international relations is that it plays out in real-life scenarios all the time.


The Oscars just happened. Here, films are frequently nominated that reach out into the world and borrow elements from international relations (IR). This year, For Sama was nominated for best Documentary feature. The documentary, which has won awards at other festivals, and was recently shown at UWE’s Thought in Action series, is about a family caught in the middle of the conflict in Syria. The producer, Waad Al-Kateab shares her own journey of the war through a female perspective.

The IR aspect in this documentary is of course the state actor, Syria and its targeting of non-state actors, the citizens, through various violent means, including terrorism. Syria has maintained strong ties with its natural allies, Russia and Iran, who have backed it in its war against the people.

For Sama follows the story of the 26-year-old producer as she falls in love, gets married, and gives birth to a girl called Sama, all while the conflict in Syria rises around her. This film has been shown at various festivals including Cannes in France, where it won the L’OEil d’or award for best documentary movie; the SXSW in the US, where it won the grand jury award; and also at Heartland International Film Festival in Indianapolis, where it received another win for best Social Impact and best Documentary feature.

The fact that this film has been shown all over the world demonstrates the reality of Syria’s poor international standing with other countries. This type of documentary was made in order to show the international community the true goings on in the war-torn country.

But this year’s edition of the Oscars also made history with another foreign film. Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-Ho of South Korea. It became the first foreign film in the history of the awards to win Best Picture. Overall it won 4 Oscars for Best Picture, Best Directing, Best International Feature Film and best Original Screenplay. Parasite is about greed and class discrimination between the Park family, who are wealthy, and the Kim family who are seen as destitute.

Another film nominated at the Oscars with an international flavour is The Two Popes. The film had its debut at The Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. Its plot follows the death of the much-loved Pope, John Paul II.

Religion is another big theme in IR, given that throughout history it has frequently been one of the main causes of world conflict. Here we see the Argentinian archbishop, Jorge Mario Bergoglio being called to The Vatican City having received the second-highest vote count after the German cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger. During Ratzinger’s time as pope, he becomes embroiled in a Vatican leaks scandal and is subsequently accused of cover up. The Argentinian archbishop makes several attempts to resign over the next few months. A year later, after trying to submit yet another resignation, Bergoglio is made Pope Francis, and the two popes end up watching the 2014 FIFA world cup final between Germany and Argentina together.

The Two Popes is all about how IR is alive within the Catholic religion, and its impact on the people within it.


One of the most popular young and American artists whose career had taken off after appearing in Victorious and Sam & Cat is Ariana Grande. Grande’s IR stance came to light after a tragic event at her concert in Manchester, England. A suicide bomber had killed a number of her fans, and had injured many others. She did fly home but then, the American showed defiance by returning to Manchester within a matter of weeks and putting on the ‘One Love Manchester’ concert. She invited many of her American and British friends to join her in protest when it comes to standing up to hate and violence. To date, she had been offered honorary citizenship of the city of Manchester and an honorary damehood, but has turned both of these down.

Grande’s actions matter within the IR spectrum because the inquiry into the bomb at her concert is still ongoing and she is doing everything she can to help the families that were impacted by the tragedy.

There are many other international artists who have appeared in the British charts or who have given concerts in the UK over the last five years. These include Mans Zelmerlow (Sweden), Katerine Duska (Greece), Eleni Foureira (Cyprus/Albania/Greece), Joseph Calleja (Malta), Mahmood (Italy), Amir (France), Ruslana, Jamala, Tina Karol (Ukraine) and Tamara Todevska (North Macedonia).

Music artists can and do use their image to facilitate relations with people in other countries for more successful careers, or to make certain political statements.

When it comes to popular culture we can see that international relations is not just an isolated academic area of study, but a live and far-reaching subject that concerns people, places and how they impact each other.

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