‘Opportune moment’: ‘Parasite’ makes history with Academy Award wins

Bea Cupin

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‘Opportune moment’: ‘Parasite’ makes history with Academy Award wins


The director from South Korea dominates the 'local' awards-giving body

MANILA, Philippines – Director Bong Joon-ho once infamously called the Academy Awards – considered the awards show in Hollywood – to be “very local.” 

“It’s a little strange, but it’s not a big deal…The Oscars are not an international film festival. They’re very local,” the director told Vulture in October 2019.

Months later, in February 2020, it was the South Korean director who dominated the 2020 edition of the same “local” awards-giving body. 

Bong’s Parasite – a genre-bending “upstairs-downstairs” thriller about a poor family that literally infiltrates the lives of a richer family – was the biggest winner of the night, winning Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature Film, Best Director, and the highly-coveted Best Picture plum. 

It’s the first film in a foreign language to win Best Picture and the very first from entertainment powerhouse South Korea to win the coveted award. 

“I thought I was done for the day and ready to relax,” Bong had earlier said after winning Best Director. He promised to “drink until next morning.”  

“We never imagined this to happen. We are so happy. I feel like a very opportune moment in history is happening right now,” said producer Kwak San-ae upon receiving the award. 

The Oscar wins wrap up a whirlwind awards season for Parasite, which had earlier won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.

After winning the Golden Globe, Bong reminded viewers – and, perhaps, Hollywood at large: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

“I think we use only one language: The cinema,” he added. 

And while Parasite has been on the receiving end of praise, its cast has notably been snubbed in most acting categories – save for the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where they won Oustanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. 

Parasite and Bong’s big wins come amid growing pressure on Hollywood – and awards-giving bodies, especially – to finally be more inclusive and diverse. The “local” award-giving body is presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, and while membership to the Academy is international, most of its members are from the United States. 

According to a 2012 story from the LA Times, the bulk of the Academy is made up of white males with the median age of 62. Back in 2012, only around 14% of members were younger than 50, and membership in the Academy lasts a lifetime. 

The 2020 Oscars have also drawn controversy for snubbing female directors in the Best Director category – most notably Greta Gerwig, despite Little Women being nominated for Best Picture.  

Parasite, whether Bong Joon-ho intended to or not, has become the face of the decades-long push for diversity in the Oscars and in Hollywood at large. 

Joaquin Phoenix, whose performance in Joker has reaped acting awards left and right, earlier called the entertainment industry out for the “system of oppression” that dominates the industry. 

“I feel conflicted because so many of my fellow actors that are deserving don’t have that same privilege. I think that we send a very clear message to people of color that you’re not welcome here. I think that’s the message that we’re sending to people that have contributed so much to our medium and our industry and in ways that we benefit from,” he said after winning the British Academy of Film and Television Arts prize for Best Actor. Joaquin Phoenix also won Best Actor at the 2020 Academy Awards. 

“We never write to represent our countries. But this is (the) very first Oscar to South Korea. Thank you,” Bong said while accepting the film’s first Oscar of the night.

And while there’s no doubt that the 2020 Academy Awards – and Parasite’s wins – are an “opportune” and important moment in entertainment history, it’s just as important for them to go beyond that.

But for now, the Academy better make sure Bong Joon-ho gets that much-deserved drink. – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.