By Albert Chang-Yoo
In my opinion, the Oscars have become increasingly stale within the past years. It’s not only the fact that the awards show consistently tops the three-hour mark (the 2018 Oscars had a runtime of three hours and fifty-four minutes), but the fact that diversity has been sorely lacking in past years.
In a sudden turn of events, the Oscars this year were the center of much excitement and praise this year. Bong Joon-Ho’s acclaimed 2019 Korean film “Parasite” arrived at the Oscars with four nominations: international feature, screenplay, director, and best picture. In a stunning upset, it won in all four categories.
While many people predicted that “Parasite” would win best foreign film, few could have predicted the total sweep. In the Best Director category, Bong Joon-Ho went up against such acclaimed movie directors as Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”) and Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon A Time In Hollywood”), yet he still won. Even more surprising was “Parasite” winning in the Best Picture category, the first ever film not made in English to win.
If you have not seen “Parasite”, I highly recommend you watch it. The story follows a poor family who manage to con their way into employment by an upper-class household. While seemingly straightforward, the plot takes an unexpected turn after one of the greatest twists in cinematic history. “Parasite” contains a funny yet twisted story of class warfare reflects growing Korean sentiment over wealth inequalities. However, American moviegoers also resonated with “Parasite,” finding parallels to a country in which a billionaire has become president and the gap between the rich and poor is steadily increasing.
In light of the 2015 #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign (when, for two years in a row, all nominees for acting were white), the Academy has tried to display diversity prominently in order to repair their image. Sometimes, it can seem forced, such as last year’s Best Picture winner “Green Book.” While starring the excellent Mahershala Ali, “Green Book’ was also directed and written by white men and criticized for oversimplifying racial reconciliation in America and upholding the “white savior” trope as seen in films like “How to Kill a Mockingbird.” In 2016, a year removed from the criticism, “Moonlight” won Best Picture. It’s not hard to feel as though the Academy felt they had to give the award to a movie with a majority black cast, lest they intensify criticism.
On the other hand, this year’s win for “Parasite” felt like a refreshing change of pace for an awards show that usually highlights movies directed, produced, and acted primarily by white people. While some may deride “Parasite” as being another “diversity pick” the unique thing about “Parasite” is that it was a movie that truly was the best in the field. Unlike past years, where the choice for Best Picture has been open for debate, “Parasite” actually deserved to win the top honor. The fact that it happens to be made by people of color just makes it even more special.
Bong Joon-Ho, director of “Parasite”, accepts the Oscar for Best Picture. PHOTO CREDIT: AP Photo
As an Asian-American, and more specifically a Korean-American, I was proud that the Korean film industry finally gained the recognition it deserves. In an industry with little Asian representation, it was both gratifying and unusual to see Asian faces crowd my television on the biggest night for the entertainment industry.
Ever since watching “Train To Busan”, Yeon Sang-Ho’s hit 2016 zombie movie, I’ve kept my ears open to any buzz surrounding movies coming out of Korea. However, after watching “Parasite”, I was left wondering why I don’t watch more foreign films. After all, there are major movie industries in India, Japan, China; not to mention there have been major acclaimed movies from Mexico (“Roma”) and Senegal (“Atlantics”) within recent years. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, there have been very few foreign-language films to hit mainstream America in the same way that Parasite has just done.
It’s certainly about time that Hollywood recognizes the greatness of foreign films. I think that Hollywood has often become so conceited that they forget about the rest of the world. Bong Joon-Ho recently stated in an interview with Vulture, “The Oscars are not an international film festival. They’re very local.” He has also repeatedly talked about the need for people to overcome the “one-inch barrier” of subtitles.
One of the great things about cinema is the ability to convey a story that can cross cultures. Foreign films can offer both a unique and interesting perspective, while still having a universal message. If you can overcome that stigma of reading subtitles, you will find that non-English films can still have the same emotional impact as any great Hollywood film. By avoiding international cinema, you are preventing yourself from broadening your perspective.
“Parasite” winning may not be a sign of what’s to come for the next Oscars, but hopefully it has brought in continued interest for foreign films in the future. At this point, I think that the Oscars needed “Parasite” more than “Parasite” needed the Oscars. The Oscars will probably never become an international film festival like Cannes, but, if greater acceptance of foreign pictures become the norm, then the Oscars will definitely reach to a broader audience and become relevant once again.
Featured Image: The cast of “Parasite” accepts the Best Picture award. PHOTO CREDIT: AP Photo