“And the Oscar goes to…”
Jane Fonda opens the white envelope. The crowd hums and hushes, dissipating into shared silence. Fonda looks up and scans the theatre. She pauses. A thin smile cracks the corner of her mouth.
The crowd erupts. Some cheer, others scream, many hang open their jaws, and all rise to collective applause. It’s Sunday, February 9, 2020. And we just witnessed history.
In its 90-year run, the Academy has nominated 563 films for Best Picture, of which only 12 weren’t in English. Parasite did what no other foreign language film before could—win.
But Parasite not only won Best Picture; it swept the competition. Auteur Bong Joon-ho also took home Best Director, Best International Feature and, alongside fellow writer Han Jin-won, Best Original Screenplay.
Parasite’s wins symbolize important changes for movies and society.
One big change is greater diversity. Before now, the Academy had never nominated a South Korean film, despite its rich cinematic history. By rewarding Parasite, more people will watch foreign language films, better understand their unique voices, and ideally empathize more with others.
Meanwhile, the Academy has also taken baby steps to improve diversity among its voting members, adding more female and minority voters every year. Fifty per cent of new members in 2019 were women, while 29 per cent were minorities. While promising, there’s still room for greater diversity among its members and nominees. Parasite may have paved the way.
Parasite also raises awareness about important social issues. Using film, Bong criticizes modern capitalism and questions our ability to ascend within the socioeconomic hierarchy. In the film, the lower-class Kim family invades the Park family’s mansion, but can’t shake the signifiers of their lower-class life. They dwell in a grimy, semi-basement apartment. They eat stale bread and sleep on the floor. And, no matter how hard they try, the Kims cannot escape their off-putting odour. The Kims are people who feel discriminated and marginalized by society, like many working-class Americans. And this isn’t the first time Bong took shots at America. He did it subtly in The Host, overtly in Snowpiercer, and over the head in Okja.
It’s ironic that Parasite, an anti-capitalist film decrying the American Dream, is being celebrated by Hollywood’s wealthy elite. Maybe Academy voters see the flaws in the current capitalist system. Or maybe they just like the movie.
Alongside capitalism, Parasite also concerns morality. In his film, Bong weaves upper- and lower-class machinations, pitting families against each other and into moral quandaries. Rich people aren’t entirely bad. Poor people aren’t entirely good. Regardless of money and status, we are all human. We are jealous and envious of others; we ignore people different from us; we show nepotism; and we can empathize.
Morality isn’t dependent on our wallet size. We feel for both the Kim family and the Park family. As one family struggles for a proper meal, the other wants enriching experiences for its children.
Parasite is also anti-Hollywood. Hollywood films have followed certain archetypes: domestic dramas, period pieces, war epics, or historical tragedies. But Bong blends genres, meshing horrific scares with pitch-black humour, serious social satire with lighthearted family drama.
At its core, Parasite is an innovative film. It ditches the conventional three-act for a five-act structure, offering greater twists and steeper character arcs, winding around the stairs and corridors of the Park mansion like an M.C. Escher print. By pushing film conventions, we witness a wholly unique experience. Who knows, this may buck the endless remakes for more original filmmaking.
So after Jane Fonda awards the Oscar, the entire cast and crew takes centre stage. Unlike many Best Picture winners before it, Parasite is leaving with more than just a few golden figurines.