Last night, Bong Joon-ho rewrote Hollywood history.
His 2019 thriller Parasite became the first non-English film to win the Best Picture award at the Oscars, marking a momentous cultural shift in a climate that’s still struggling to promote diversity.
Prior to the award ceremony, viewers were angered at the lack of women in nominations for Best Director, and the lack of black actors in nominations for Best Actor and Actress (with the sole exception of Cynthia Erivo’s nomination for her work in Harriet). Last year, viewers were dismayed when Green Book, a culturally tone-deaf film about segregation, took home Best Picture.
It came as a surprise to many when Parasite won a total of four awards, largely because the Academy has long ignored films outside of the Western canon. Joon-ho himself affirmed this when he referred to the Oscars as a “very local” film festival— ninety-two years of nominations reflect an Academy made up of old, white men that love to watch movies made by and for old, white men. Viewers took to Twitter to express their shock, with several viral tweets calling out the vast differences in quality between Parasite and Green Book.
bong joon-ho after he saw green book win best picture last year pic.twitter.com/O3yhRQrVp0
— nela (@atcnement) February 10, 2020
If we can go Green Book to Parasite, we can go Trump to Warren
— Ben Wexler (@mrbenwexler) February 10, 2020
To me, Parasite’s win was a restoration of faith— faith in a Hollywood that is working, albeit slowly, towards progress. Academy membership has shown efforts towards inclusiveness: representation for people of color in the Academy has doubled, from 8% to 16% this year. In stark contrast to last year’s Green Book win, Parasite’s groundbreaking sweep showed that the Academy was adapting to an increasingly globalized world. As Korean pop and cinema have entered into the American mainstream, South Korean entertainment has become an indomitable force in pop culture. It’s about time Hollywood recognizes that.
Parasite’s win is indicative of a paradigm shift in Hollywood— not only are more audiences willing to watch movies outside their comfort zone, but members of the Academy are open to new ideas and perspectives that challenge their Eurocentric worldview.
But the Academy has more work to do. Its demographics continue to lack diversity— though there’s a clear improvement in Academy membership, it remains unrepresentative of Hollywood audiences. Despite the brilliantly nuanced acting performances in Parasite, the actors did not receive any nominations, which might speak to how Asian actors are often ignored and overlooked in the industry. In addition, the Academy has repeatedly refused to recognize cinematic strides on digital platforms, such as Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma.
Audiences around the world have always had to read subtitles to comprehend American films. Perhaps it’s time we Americans give that a try, too.
Featured Image via Youtube