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Film

Parasite; foreign language goes mainstream

Parasite won big at the Academy Awards, and on the other side of the world, an entire country was celebrating. Parasitebroke boundaries by being the only international film ever to win the most coveted prize, Best Picture. It might just be the most significant Oscar victory in history.

To understand the magnitude of this victory, we have to understand the countless criticisms levelled against the Academy in recent years. The Oscars have always been an insider’s club, and recent snubs have only reinforced this idea. The Oscars’ seemingly allergic reaction to genre films – especially very deserving horror films such as Ari Aster’s Hereditary – further alienated a large group of filmgoers, and for an awards show centred around film, they still don’t seem to realise the value of recognising indie film. When you add this all up, you realise the Academy only really values a small portion of ‘American’ film, and this is before discussing the lack of recognition international film gets at the Oscars.

Just look at last year. Remember Green Book? It won over Alfonso Cuaron’s heartfelt family drama Roma, a Spanish language film that many considered a favourite. So when nominations were released, I was hopeful, but even with Parasite winning the Palm D’Or at Cannes, I remained overly sceptical on the big night. Yet Parasite walked away with some of the biggest awards, and director Bong Joon-Ho’s reactions warmed everyone’s hearts on Twitter. Parasite was actually the first South Korean film to even be nominated in the Best International Feature category, and when you consider the stream of amazing films from the Korean New Wave movement, the lack of recognition of Asian cinema becomes clear.

When it was named the night’s Best Picture winner, the hall erupted with applause. Hollywood icons like Tom Hanks, and Martin Scorcese were seen cheering them on. Parasite is one of only a handful of non-English speaking films to be nominated for the grand prize, but it is the first to win it. That’s incredible.

Many might choose to feel frustrated in how long it took to achieve, but I choose to discuss why this landmark victory will matter to so many people. It matters because the Oscars actually gave the award to a film that was widely considered one of the year’s best. It matters because a nation’s people, thousands of miles away, had their story heard.

Filmmakers from around the world can look to Parasite with great optimism that one day their stories will be recognised too. It matters because a film with a sharp critique on class structure and the system that perpetuates it resonated with so many people that not even the elite, inner circle of the Academy could ignore it. Most of all, it matters because Parasite may well be the first foray into international cinema for mainstream viewers, unlocking a completely fresh world of films that have just as meaningful, important, and entertaining stories to share. Cannes has long been a space for international films to flourish, and it seems long overdue for the Academy to appreciate it.

It’s easy to say this breakthrough solves the existing issues with the Academy and the film industry as a whole, but in truth Mr. Bong still had to play the game of awards season and participate in its politics, and the film still faced backlash rooted in racism. The amazing ensemble cast won a SAG award, but none of them were nominated for an Oscar for their performances. Parasite is just one film, but it may have a seismic impact on the film industry as we know it.

 

Image: Dick Thomas Johnson via Wikimedia Commons