On Jan. 13, the nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards were announced. With six nominations, “Parasite” was the movie that shook the world. The movie received great reviews since its premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, with a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and praise from critics like Stephanie Zacharek of Time magazine, who said, “It tells a story you could probably follow without subtitles, or any dialogue at all: the faces of these actors show with piercing clarity how it feels to be outsiders in a world of wealth and privilege.”
The film delivers messages that are easily understood by people across different cultures, regardless of language, which is precisely why it smashed barriers and continues to thrive nearly a year after it premiered. Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece is one of the best films of 2019.
“Parasite” is not only a work of art; it is a dark commentary on society and social stratification.
The winning streak of “Parasite” began when it became the first South Korean film to win Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, but the beginning of 2020 seems to be the time for “Parasite” to shine as it continues to break into the mainstream. In early January, director Bong Joon-ho and his team earned South Korea’s first ever Golden Globe for best foreign language film.
“Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” said Bong Joon-ho through his interpreter Sharon Choi as he accepted the award. Bong Joon-ho’s Golden Globe acceptance speech reflects how the mainstream Hollywood media remains stuck in only two categories: movies in English and movies not in English. In the one-minute speech, Bong Joon-ho managed to criticize the movie industry for its outdated structure, and he encouraged people to engage more with foreign language films.
The film didn’t stop there. Following its Golden Globe win, “Parasite” continued. It was the first foreign language film to take home the SAG Award in the prestigious best cast in a motion picture category.
During the backstage interview after the award show, Choi Woo-shik, who played Kim Ki-woo, shared how he hopes that there will be more appreciation for foreign movies following the success of “Parasite.” Destroying boundaries and making history seems to be a mission for the “Parasite” team.
For the past 92 years of Academy Awards history, there have only been 11 foreign language films nominated for best picture. Evidently, it remains difficult for foreign films to break the English language barrier that leads to awards in Hollywood. Despite numerous accusations of lacking diversity and systematic racism, award shows kept their barricades up high.
In the 2019 Oscars, Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” had the public hopeful, as it was nominated for a total of 10 categories. Unfortunately for foreign moviegoers, “Roma” was placed in the foreign language film category while “Green Book” pocketed the award for best picture.
Yet, “Parasite,” against all odds, managed to snatch the grand prize and become the first non-English language film to win best picture at the Oscars. The film acquired four awards out of six nominations, including best director, best foreign language film, best original screenplay and best picture. However, it’s not the numbers that matter. The movie’s victory matters because it signifies a new era, a post-“Parasite” era, in which foreign films can easily be recognized and awarded.
At the interview after the show, Bong Joon-ho expressed his opinion on the universality of “Parasite,” stating, “Perhaps the deeper I delve into things that are around me, the broader the story can become, the more appeal it can have to an international audience.” Although the details of the story are based off of South Korea’s class system, the message resonates with anyone who lives in a world that continually separates the rich from the poor, the haves from the have-nots.
The film is a metaphor for the mainstream movie industry: English-language films are the haves and foreign-language films are the have-nots. The haves seem to have endless achievements, fed with a silver spoon. They are continually awarded for the things they have done. Whereas the have-nots work tirelessly, only to get awarded when they can unambiguously surpass the same standards as the privileged.
The best picture win for “Parasite” is merely a start to the abolition of the archaic concept that detaches the haves from the have-nots. As the film’s co-writer, Han Jin-won says, “To win best picture means that this film was voted by the members of the Academy and I realized that will signal the beginning of a different kind of change for international cinema, not just for Korea.”
When asked to give a message to Hollywood actors of Asian descent, director Bong Joon-ho stated that he doesn’t think that we should be emphasizing borders or divisions, whether it’s the U.S., Europe or Asia, as long as we focus on the beauty of cinema. He emphasized that “we are all just making movies,” implying that where one creator came from does not matter more than what the creator makes.
The movie’s Oscars moment is historical because of its impact. The historical win marks the beginning of a post-“Parasite” era that accepts diversity and appreciates a work of art regardless of its origin. The general public has entered this new era with the help of new technologies and ever-growing streaming services; it is the industry that needs to catch up. The “one-inch-tall” subtitles should not be the reason for us not to enjoy a piece of work.