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Opening our eyes to foreign film

Source: Walt Disney Television (via flickr)

by Catarina Vicente

Picture the scene – the night of the 92nd Oscars. The majority of the audience consists of American directors, producers and actors, and only a small portion of the audience is foreign. This small portion includes the cast and crew of Parasite, the 2019 South-Korean movie that took international theaters by storm. The movie holds four nominations, with the movie’s director, Bong Joon-ho having three nominations himself. Regardless, this award show heavily favors American creators, and despite Parasite’s impressive reviews, the odds are not in their favor, especially with the Academy’s history. 

But to the audience’s delight (and perhaps disbelief), Parasite walks away as the nominee with most awards. 

Out of the six nominations, it wins four (Best Picture, Directing, International Feature Film and Writing (Original Screenplay), with Bong Joon-ho, the movie’s director, winning three (Writing (Original Screenplay)’, ‘Directing’ and ‘International Feature Film’). As the cast and crew walk on stage, he smiles, perhaps delighting at the impact of this small moment, when a South-Korean movie made history as the first foreign movie to win ‘Best Picture’.  The director has made headlines with his Golden Globes speech (“once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films…”)— and is clearly aware of the place of foreign movies to American audiences. So, what does Parasite’s victory mean for the wider public? Could general audiences finally be taking Bong Joon-ho’s advice to overlook the “1-inch barrier of subtitles?” 

Bong Joon Ho also won the Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay at the 2020 Oscars (Source: Dick Thomas Johnson via Wikimedia Commons)

It seems that way, with the movie’s reviews soaring. American audiences especially loved Parasite. The movie holds a 92% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and critics praise Bong’s decision to shine a light on the lives of the lower class in South Korea, portraying the disparaging gap between classes, that many can relate to. Parasite’s victory, instead of indicating a change in Western audience’s attitude, might indicate the audience’s willingness to look past cultural barriers.  

“And despite the movie’s nominations, the Academy refused to recognize the movie’s actors”

But award shows don’t seem to be so willing; in such shows, Parasite seems like the exception rather than an indication of our changing attitudes. The Daily Show’s host, Trevor Noah, criticized the academy for awarding Parasite to appear ‘woke’, stating the Academy’s trend to nominate foreign movies only after having received backlash (which the Academy did after ‘Best Picture’ was awarded to Green Book last year); critics say nominating Parasite was their attempt to make up for the lack of diversity in previous years. And despite the movie’s nominations, the Academy refused to recognize the movie’s actors, showing its unwillingness to award a foreign movie as highly as its American counterparts. So, to what extent can Western audiences appreciate art outside of their cultural bubble when their award shows won’t do the same? 

Regardless, pressure from audiences might force the Academy to widen its scope to include more foreign movies in the future, although it’s hard to predict. But certainly, Parasite’s success left a spirit of inspiration in foreign moviemakers hoping to write its successor.

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