By: Megan Bishop, Culture and Entertainment Editor
It has been a week since the 92nd Academy Awards and I am still in shock that Parasite won best picture. Leading up to the awards show, I had sworn off watching the ceremony because I knew I would be set up for disappointment as I believed Parasite would lose Best Director and Best Picture. Little did I know...
Parasite is without a doubt one of the best films of 2019. The film started it’s awards season back in May 2019 where it won the Palme d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival. After a film release in South Korea, Parasite was a selection in the Telluride Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, and New York Film Festival. The film received massive critical acclaim leading up to its international release. The film gained an audience on the international stage and grossed $132.1 million globally. While it was both critically and commercially successful, I was convinced that the Academy would not award this incredible film based on the previous year’s awards and the lack of diverse nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards.
While the Academy Awards have had their moments of inclusivity over the past few years, they remain exclusionary to women, people of colour, and the LGBTQIA+ community. The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag in 2016 brought attention to the absence of people of colour included in the acting nominations that year. At the 90th Academy Awards, the nominees and winners were much more reflective of stories about women, stories about people of colour, and stories about LGBTQIA+ people. Lady Bird, Get Out, and Call Me By Your Name were all breakout films with critical acclaims that featured diverse representations of cast and crew. While the following year featured nominations for more diverse films like Roma, Blackkklansman and Black Panther, it was troubling that Green Book, a “white man learns about racism” movie, which won Best Picture. The film is not a bad movie (this is subjective but I believe this to be the general consensus), but it was the safe choice which appeased members who have been in the Academy for many years. Green Book is representative of the past, not present day.
When the nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards were announced, I was equally disheartened. Other than Parasite’s nomination for Best Picture and Bong Joon-Ho’s directing nominations, the nominees were all the safe choices and with the exception of Antonio Banderas and Cynthia Erivo, all the acting nominees were once again white. While I had optimistically hoped that Jamie Foxx in Just Mercy and Lupita Nyong'o in Us would receive nominations for their performances, Awkwafina’s snub for her lead performance in The Farewell after winning the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical was unforgivable. The directing nominations were also all men, completely ignoring the incredible work of female filmmakers such as Greta Gerwig and Lulu Wang; however, this is not as shocking after reading that a member of the academy did not vote for Gerwig as he found Little Women “confusing.” Other than Parasite’s nominations (and some surprise nominations for The Lighthouse and Knives Out), the awards show seemed to be going in a familiar, safe, and boring direction.
Parasite had a lot stacked up against it. The first major obstacle it had to overcome to gain entrance into North American main-stream culture was the language divide; Parasite is, of course, a foreign language film spoken entirely in Korean. To understand the dialogue, North American audiences have to watch the film with subtitles, which is a “struggle” for audiences who are used to having the privilege of viewing almost every film spoken in English. The film is also not simply a drama, which tends to be the genre that wins the award; Parasite is a hybrid of genres including drama, dark comedy, and thriller. The film does not feature any well known actors and takes place in South Korea. Also, the film is distributed by Neon, a new distributor founded in 2017. These factors make it more difficult to compete against films such as Joker which is based on a well-known character and is backed by studio-giant Warner Brothers. Regardless of quality, the odds were stacked against Parasite from the start.
Parasite has brought a ton of attention to the importance of watching international films while also deflating the ego of American cinema. During Bong Joon-Ho’s best Foreign Language Film acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, he stated that if American audiences looked beyond the “one inch barrier of subtitles” they would be introduced to many more incredible films. Bong Joon-Ho has also called the Academy Awards a “local awards show” which is true considering there is a specific category for international films that excludes American Cinema as American films are always nominated for the major awards. The Academy Awards devalue international cinema, treating it as inferior to American films.
Parasite’s Best Picture win is historic as it is the first non-English-language film to win the category. Parasite dominated the Academy Awards, also winning Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature Film, and Best Director. The film beat out other films that were directed by Hollywood favourites like Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. All of the Parasite wins marked a historic shift in cinema, as it demonstrated that international films can compete (and win) at these “local awards shows.” While awards shows still have a long way to go to recognize films that are not written and directed by white men, Parasite’s wins will hopefully inspire change within these award voting bodies. While Parasite’s awards journey has been game-changing, we will hopefully learn more about it soon as Bong Joon-Ho’s translator Sharon Choi is writing a screenplay about awards season.
While saying that “Parasite Made Me Believe in Awards Season Again” is a bit dramatic, it’s wins demonstrate that it is possible for international films to breakthrough and receive the acclaim in North America that they deserve. It may also inspire an increased distribution of international films in North American movie theatres. Parasite’s historic wins will hopefully provide for an influx of opportunities for new stories to be told. And if nothing more comes from their win, it will be remembered as a historic moment in film history.