Parasite just made Oscars history. Will it change cinema forever?

Louis Staples
Monday 10 February 2020 09:15
news

The Oscars can be a frustrating week to be on the internet, as people rightly complain about all the deserving creators who weren't rewarded fairly for their work.

Depressingly, 2020 has been like every other year. Actresses like Lupita Nyong'o​ were excluded while Scarlett Johansson was nominated twice. Greta Gerwig was also snubbed for a directorial nomination for Little Women. Predictably, all four acting Oscars went to white actors: Joaquin Phoenix, Renée Zellweger, Laura Dern and Brad Pitt.

But one film that swept the 2020 Oscars, winning Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay – is Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite.

The South Korean film tells the story of a poor tutor who starts working for a wealthy family. What starts off as a seemingly normal story grows into a picture that practically convulses with tension, forcing us to question our ideas of dignity, class and our culpability within these structures. It’s a story that could take place in any city, like London or Los Angeles, where the wealthy use their money to insulate themselves from the worries of the outside world, stripping themselves of empathy in the pursuit of status.

Is Parasite’s Oscar Best Picture win a game-changer?

The film was lauded as a “directorial masterpiece” by critics and viewers. It certainly feels unusual for a foreign language film – but particularly one that dissects Asian class structure in such a precise, critical manner – to be hyped this much. After all, Parasite follows Crazy Rich Asians, which explored Asian/American culture in English and was far more celebratory of obscene wealth.

But plenty films are critically acclaimed and don't win big at the Oscars.

Parasite's win is historic because it is the first foreign language film to win Best Picture.

Accepting the Best Picture Oscar, Bong didn't comment on the historic nature of the film's win. Instead he paid tribute to Martin Scorsese in his Best Director speech, saying that, when he was young, he “carved deep into my heart” a quote by Scorsese: “The most personal is the most creative.” He also thanked Quentin Tarantino and he gave his Best Screenplay speech in Korean.

But a month earlier, accepting the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, Joon-ho said:

Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.

But before the ceremony, a lot of people also thought that Parasite was being snubbed.

The Oscars neglected the cast from its almost entirely white acting nominations, despite primary cast – Song Kang-Ho, Jang Hye-jin, Choi Woo-Shik, Park So-Dam – expertly conveying each and every micro-aggression that class conflict provides.

None of the Parasite cast were recognised by the Golden Globes or the 2020 BAFTAs (which only recognised white actors, including two nominations for Margot Robbie). The cast fared better as a group, garnering the Screen Actors Guild nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture (which will be awarded on 19 January).

Why did this happen?

E. Alex Jung, a senior writer at Vulture, thinks that the snub is to do with cultural bias.

Karen Han agrees, particularly seeing as the film's director describes it as "actor-led".

But Parasite has now scooped cinema's biggest prize. So what does it all mean?

Winning Oscars is often down to the awards season “campaign” and the buzz that films have as Academy members vote. Best Picture is an unpredictable category – remember when Moonlight snatched the award from La La Land at the last minute? Parasite's clean sweep felt reminiscent of this: a run powered by momentum and the sheer quality of the film. A true underdog story that we love to see.

It also means that the Academy might finally be reflecting on its abysmal approach to diversity.

Only 10 foreign-language films have ever nominated for Best Picture, but none of them won. Last year, Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma was a contender, but it lost to Green Book. Many people criticised Green Book's approach to race, which made the film beating out Roma an even more difficult pill to swallow.

This year only one person of colour (Cynthia Erivo) was nominated for an acting award, encouraging the Academy to rightly recognise Parasite as the cinematic masterpiece that it is.

Despite the acting snubs, Parasite's historic Best Picture win might open the minds of audiences – and the Academy – to more Asian and foreign language films in future.

And that's definitely a game-changer.

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