Respect Equality

The real message of ‘Parasite,’ winner of the Best Picture Oscar

Executive producers Min Heoi Heo and Miky Lee accept the Best Picture award for “Parasite” during the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Story at a glance

  • The Academy Awards has been criticized for favoring Caucasians, sparking the #OscarsSoWhite movement.
  • This year marked the first non-English speaking Best Picture award, with the top honor going to the dark comedy “Parasite.”
  • “Parasite” is a highly rated genre-bending film that investigates topics of classicism in Korea.

Last night marked the 92nd annual Academy Awards, a celebration of excellence in filmmaking. The awards have received heavy criticism for a tradition of predominantly recognizing white people, and in 2014 the viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was born, calling attention to what many believed to be racial discrimination within the academy.

In recent years the academy has made attempts to diversify its voting ranks, expanding its foreign contingent by inviting 842 film industry professionals from 59 countries to become members. Just below 30 percent of the invitees were people of color. The demographic of the academy now continues to slowly shift. Only about 8 percent of the academy’s 8,500 voters were people of color back in 2015, compared to 16 percent today.

A historic win

It is perhaps that shift in the voting demographic that pushed Korean director Bong Joon Ho’s cinematic masterpiece “Parasite” into the spotlight, which went on to win four major awards, including the coveted title of Best Picture. The win cemented “Parasite” as the first non-English speaking film in the history of the Academy Awards — now almost a century old — to win the top prize. 

The win came as a surprise to many, including pundits for major publications. Richard Brody, a writer for the New Yorker, predicted a best picture win for “1917” and saying, “‘1917’ will win Best Picture, thanks to voters who are impressed by its visual originality, because they saw the same thing done five years ago, with ‘Birdman,’ and voted for it then, too.”

Nobody was more surprised by the win, though, than Ho himself. 

“The Oscars are not an international film festival,” he assessed during the lead up to the awards show. “They’re very local.”

“I’m speechless,” producer Kwak Sin-ae said to a standing ovation while accepting the history-making award. “We never imagined this to ever happen. We are so happy. I feel like a very opportune moment in history is happening right now. I express my deep gratitude and respect for all the members of the academy for making this decision.”

The critically acclaimed film is what could be described as a black comedy, becoming darker and more twisted as the film progresses. It centers on the destitute Kim family, living practically underground and without proper means of having the lives the characters obviously dream of. Their situation is quickly and starkly contrasted with that of the wealthy Park family, after the Kims’ teenage son begins a tutoring job with them. The Kims begin to infiltrate and deceive the Parks, weaving a web of lies, almost as if they were parasites. The film is a powerful statement on wealth inequality and classicism, with plenty of hidden metaphors and innuendo. 

“Even though she’s rich, she’s nice,” says husband Ki-taek during the movie as he scarfs down noodles. “She’s nice because she’s rich,” shoots back his wife.

Progress to be made

The cast of “Parasite” included Bong’s frequent collaborator Song Kang Ho as the family patriarch. Song’s versatility and acting abilities have been praised by Bong and many others, including his “Snowpiercer” costar Tilda Swinton, who described him as “one of the protean greats of world cinema.”

It was controversial, then, that Song has yet to receive an Oscar nod. The lack of nominations for any of the film’s stars sparked renewed criticism that the academy overlooks Asian actors and other actors of color. 

The awards show barely avoided what could be called by critics as an “ #OscarsSoWhite” because of six nominations and four wins for “Parasite,” as well as the nomination of Cynthia Erivo for best actress for her work in “Harriet.” Remove “Parasite” from the slate of nominees and there would be a much less diverse picture. 

Once again, all of the nominees for best director were men. In fact, only five women have ever been nominated for directing in the history of the awards. Kathryn Bigelow is still the only female director to win the category for 2008’s “The Hurt Locker.”

Academy award-winning actress Natalie Portman took to the red carpet to make a statement on what many regard as a snub for multiple female directors this year. Her gown was accompanied by a black cape embroidered with the names of female directors who didn’t get an Oscars nod. Some of the names on her cape included Lorene Scafaria for “Hustlers,” Lulu Wang for “The Farewell,” and Greta Gerwig, who had been tipped to get a nomination for “Little Women” but didn’t end up making the final cut. 

“I wanted to recognize the women who were not recognized for their incredible work this year in my subtle way,” Portman told the Los Angeles Times. 

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