The Oscars 2020 was certainly full of surprises. From Joaquin Phoenix’ impassioned speech about injustice and the environment, to Idina Menzel’s rather kooky performance of ‘Into the Unknown’ and James Corden and Rebel Wilson presenting the award for the best visual effects in fur-suits mocking the appalling CGI of the film Cats. But nothing was more of a surprise, an a delightful one in that, than Parasite winning Best Picture. The crowd surged up in a wave to give the film a standing ovation, and stars such as Charlize Theron yelled and pointed when the lights were dimmed on the stage to lead the entourage off; until they were turned back on allowing other members of Parasite’s cast to make an acceptance speech.
Parasite is a black comedy, but also a film deeply imbued with messages about social class, aspiration and materialism. The Kim family are living in near poverty in a basement flat. The son of the family- Ki-woo – manages to get the position of English tutor to the daughter of a wealthy family. Soon Ki-woo succeeds in setting his mother, father and sister up with roles in the household. Pretending to all be unrelated strangers, they infiltrate the household leading to moments of interesting powerplay.
Although other Best Picture winners – Slumdog Millionaire in 2009 or The Last Emperor in 1988 – had large parts of their dialogue in a foreign language, this is the first Best Picture winner to be completely in one. Previous winners are almost always products of the Hollywood system, such as the films aforementioned. Parasite was completely filmed in South Korea, away from Tinsel Town’s influence, yet it scooped up Hollywood’s greatest prize.
The lack of diversity in the Oscars is often rightly criticised. It was refreshing to have a Best Picture winner that wasn’t so white. Could this be the start of a new era for international films? Perhaps the Academy Awards could include more Bollywood, Chinese, Japanese and Nollywood films. These places all have flourishing film industries. Not only would this increase the representation on our screens and open our eyes to other cultures, but it would benefit both Hollywood and the film industries of these countries as their audiences would be more invested in the Oscars.
Yet, there is a large argument that the Oscars have become outdated and irrelevant. The films nominated for its four main categories often seem pre-packaged for the award’s season, with winter release dates to draw them close to the time the nominations are made and with cultural stereotypes that are no longer relevant. The public rarely seems to care about the pictures that are nominated, only five films in the last fifteen years that won best picture grossed more than $100,000. The films nominated are out of touch with the public’s desires. Perhaps superhero films are not the most intelligent pieces of art created; yet they bring much greater audience appeal and much greater sums of money for studios. The Academy Awards did try to rectify this a few years back with a “Popular Films Category” by celebrating consumer cinema, however, this caused more upset than pleasure.
The Oscars ceremony itself this year had the lowest viewing figures on record. Some would argue this is evidence enough of the ceremony’s obsolete nature and lack of appeal. It is no longer a celebration of well-crafted films, but a procession of red-carpet dresses trying to make a statement, presenters trying to produce a funny quip and musical performances trying to make an impact despite no one really caring to listen.
Perhaps with Parasite’s win relevancy will be brought back to the Academy Awards. It could be the start of a new era for the awards ceremony with its breaking down language barriers to celebrate films worldwide. In the future, the traditional Hollywood awards ceremony, often criticised for only celebrating itself and the city it is set in, could break down borders; and celebrate films of all kinds.
Image: lincolnblues via Flickr.com