Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” won four Oscars this past Sunday at the Academy Awards. The most pivotal accolade is arguably the film’s victory in the “Best Picture” category. “Parasite” is the first non-English language and South Korean film to be awarded this title. The moment at the awards in which the film was named was remarkable. Bong Joon-ho took to the stage and was obviously overcome with joy when accepting the award. The screen panned to famed Korean Canadian actress Sandra Oh. She was also shown weepy-eyed and incredibly overjoyed. The unprecedented emotion in the room was palpable, almost transcending the screen from which I was watching.
This was an incredibly moving moment as it represented both a cultural breakthrough for South Korean arts — similar to that shown by the international success of the K-pop group BTS in the music industry — alongside an acknowledgment of Asian presence and representation in the film industry. This is not something to be taken lightly, as it is an unparalleled naming of the title. However, this victory should not overshadow the fact that the Academy and other American/Western organizations, which are often gatekeepers of the arts and entertainment, continuously commoditize, fetishize and subsequently dispose of people of color in entertainment.
The Oscars have only recently come under fire for the exclusion of marginalized communities from consideration for their awards. Historically, a majority of nominated film directors were men who created films with primarily white actors and actresses in lead roles. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite brought this issue to the forefront of entertainment news. The campaign began approximately five years ago and has only gained momentum since. Even at this year’s award show, Issa Rae, the writer and actress, quipped “Congratulations to those men.” when presenting the award for best director.
The issue of commoditization of minority groups in entertainment goes deeper than simply the awards in general. The nature of the nominations for Academy Awards undoubtedly perpetuates a preference for primarily white casts and directors. This is shown in Peter Farrelly’s 2018 directing of “Green Book.” This was a film about racial politics created by a white director who received acclaim for the movie. Similarly, the casting of Emma Stone in 2015’s “Aloha” or, more recently, Scarlett Johansson in “Ghost in the Shell” were instances of white actresses taking roles depicting people of color. Both subsequently received awards for their roles. Hollywood, as an institution, has consistently strived toward reaching quotas rather than actually diversifying the films that it produces in a substantial and lasting way. This goes for the actors as well as film crews.
The Oscars have mimicked this pattern. Though they have made efforts toward reform — shown in more inclusive nominations as well as the Academy’s membership doubling in its number of women and people of color — they provide only just enough representation to appease their critics. “Parasite” as a winner of the Best Picture should be applauded. However, it shouldn’t distract from the fact that the film is the first to win the Best Picture award without having any leading or supporting actors or actresses nominated for awards since Danny Boyle’s 2008 “Slumdog Millionaire,” also a film that depicts people of color.
The Oscars are important to many people and are unarguably a key hallmark of pop culture. As a result, we must take into account the nature of films nominated for their accolades. Yet, the problem runs deeper than the exclusion of foreign films and films that cast people of color from nominations. The belittlement of foreign films accompanied by the criminal underrepresentation of minorities in Hollywood is perpetuated by these awards. In order to remedy the massive discrepancy between foreign film and representation of people of color in the industry, the patterns that exist within American entertainment must be reformed as well.
LEILA JACKSON is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Her columns run on alternate Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .