Image by Ada Barbee

Academy Awards makes history giving foreign language film “Parasite” Best Picture, still has a long way to go for diversity

The 92nd Academy Awards, which aired on Feb. 9, made history in multiple ways. To begin, it had the lowest ratings and viewing of any Academy Award show in history. On a more positive note, Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” took home the Best Picture award, making it the first ever foreign film to accomplish that feat. Yet, despite what appears to be a win for diversity, the award show largely followed tradition, as it was just as white-washed as previous years with very few films made by directors of color receiving nominations.

The Oscar winners are chosen by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a group of unknown individuals who have watched these films and judged them accordingly. They typically choose specific types of films for Oscar nominations, generally period pieces or films including themes of overcoming struggle, such as “Birdman,” “12 Years a Slave” and “The King’s Speech.” Their narrow focus on what constitutes an Oscar-worthy film has led to the term “Oscar bait,” a film solely produced to win Oscars. In other words, certain directors may choose to create a film that they believe will win awards as opposed to producing something of significant artistic merit. 

It is safe to say that the nominees for the 2020 Academy Awards strayed from the standard material of previous Oscar winners. For starters, “Parasite” swept the award show, taking home numerous awards including Best Picture. The film won additional awards for Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay.

“Parasite” has a different tone than the rest of the films nominated, as it occupies the space between  experimental arthouse and popular blockbuster with a mix of heavy dialogue and action. The film alternates between mundane moments and action until it culminates in a chaotic, unexpected shift, falling into the genres of comedy, thriller and mystery simultaneously. 

The film’s plot focuses on a lower-class family in South Korea who infiltrates an upper-class family’s home through luck and ingenuity. Through showing the dichotomy existing between wealth and poverty, the film undoubtedly serves as a commentary on our current sociopolitical climate and the vast wealth discrepancies thought the world. 

Notably, despite its popularity at the Academy Awards, the film has not been seen by many viewers in the U.S. Due to its status as a foreign language film, certain people in the US did not bother to see it because it requires the audience to read subtitles for over two hours.  

Similar to “Parasite,” a common theme uniting many of the nominations was opposites unifying in unexpected ways. As today’s society has become increasingly polarized politically, socially and economically, many of the nominated films work to transcend this divisiveness through showcasing how very different people are able to work as a unit toward a common goal. 

The two main characters in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” exemplify this theme, as one is a well off movie star living in the Hollywood hills and one is a stuntman who lives in a trailer. Similarly, “1917” tells the story of two soldiers fighting together in World War I, one of whom is proud to be a soldier and the other does not want to go to war. “Ford v. Ferrari,” which took home the award for Best Cinematography, additionally demonstrates this theme through featuring the partnership of a no-games mechanic and race car driver Ken Miles and smooth-talking salesman Carol Shelby.

While quite often the popular hashtag #oscarssowhite rings true, the traditionally white-centric Academy Awards culture was disrupted by its new appreciation for the work of foreign filmmakers. In previous years impressive films made by people of color and/or surrounding the stories of people of color have been overlooked. That being said, the Oscars failed to recognize numerous other films showcasing the African American experience such as “Us,” “Queen & Slim” and “Dolemite Is My Name.” Aside from “Parasite,” the bulk of the films nominated exclusively portrayed the experiences of white men and women. 

The Academy Awards have great potential to be a platform for honoring the stories of diverse perspectives and should strive to amplify usually overlooked and silenced voices in both the Hollywood and global environment. While this year’s awards made progress in becoming more inclusive, there is still much work to be done in the future. 

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