Parasite was never a favourite to clinch the Best Picture distinction at the 92nd Academy Awards.
Certainly, it was a thematic showpiece. The plot unfolded in a near-perfect manner. And Bong Joon-ho and his team delivered a visual masterclass: their genius, on display, in every single frame.
Yet, it had a giant hurdle. A foreign film had never clinched the ceremony’s most prestigious award, and while the South Korean thriller did in fact scoop up several other awards in the lead-up to the Oscars, rivalling contender 1917 was garnering all the hype and media attention.
Parasite, though not an outright front-runner due to the language barrier, was utterly deserving of the award. If it had not won, the media narrative would have irrevocably been about how the show’s producers were blind to diversity.
“Once you overcame the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” Bong Joon-ho quipped, during his Golden Globes (best Foreign Language film) acceptance speech. Think of the many outstanding “foreign” films that did not garner enough attention worldwide: Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, Hirokazu Koreeda's Shoplifters, Jan Komasa’s Corpus Christi. All excellent, gripping stories that were severely underrated – just because the medium used was not English.
Yes, subtitles can be a major distraction, I get that. There is some form of annoyance attached to having to toggle between reading the on-screen words and appreciating the characters’ facial expression. But as Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards (which only featured English in about a third of the runtime) has proven, such a minor vexation is hardly an antithesis for a box-office success. Subtitles: hardly an adequate excuse for audiences (and critics alike).
The real issue here is the implicit bias against foreign competition. The world’s most spotlighted movie awards show being held in the United States… Surely, Hollywood has an edge?
Even Trump has weighed in on this. “By the way, how bad were the Academy Awards this year, do you see? And the winner is, a movie from South Korea. What the hell was all that about? We got enough problems with South Korea, on trade, and on top of it they give it the best movie of the year. Was it good?”
Which proves my point exactly.
Nonetheless, Parasite’s win was a win for diversity.
The ever-so compelling rich-poor divide
The witty Ki-jung (played by Park So-dam) lay in the mansion’s glorious bathtub in a rather regal fashion. Later in the film, back in their barely-liveable half-residences, her brother Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) forced his weight on top of the lavatory bowl cover to prevent sewage water from spurting out. The message behind 2020’s triumphant Best Picture was readily apparent: drastic, almost warped inequalities exist in society today.
And it remains a theme that is captivating both moviemakers and movie-goers: it was used as a sub-tension in Joker, and the horror film Us was a sinister take on the present social disparities. Perhaps it is time for the world’s ruling elite to look beyond the movie industry as a mere entertainment outlet/capitalistic machinery.
Men, men, and more, men
The Oscars can be a grandiose and monumental stage to make an enduring, resonating, progressive statement (see the 91st Academy Awards), and the reverse is easily equally true. Unfortunately, at this year’s Oscars, the latter unfolded.
It all began when the organisers unveiled the list of nominees for the Best Director honour.
There were no female names to be found.
It was not that this year’s pool lacked impressive, compelling female candidates. Greta Gerwig, the genius behind the Oscar-nominated Little Women drew rave reviews for her fresh rethink of the American classic.
She was snubbed.
Lulu Wang artfully navigated thematic contrasts to deliver a poignant tale in The Farewell.
She was snubbed.
Am I reading too much into it?
Maybe after the furore this year, the committee will begin to seriously consider taking active steps to bridge the gender gap. Yet, I hope they do so earnestly, with sincerity, and not for the sake of trying to avoid backlash.
More than just a speech
Throughout the awards season, Joaquin Phoenix can invariably be found on stage, microphone in front of him, and an accolade in his hands. It was no different at the Academy Awards, as he emerged triumphant in the Best Actor category.
And as he has done all season, he used his time on stage to bring to attention several issues the world is facing today.
“We go into the natural world and we plunder it for its resources. We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakeable. Then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf and we put it in our coffee and our cereal,” he said, of animal rights.
On why he has decided to speak out, he remarked, “But I think the greatest gift that it’s given me, and many people in [this industry] is the opportunity to use our voice for the voiceless.”
More celebrities should follow his lead.
Their efforts in supporting or furthering social causes might not make much of viable impact or even enact visible change, but the amount of positive influence they can command is immense.
Arthur Fleck might have a different opinion, though.