Parasite's Historic Oscars Night Was Even More Important Than You Think
Yes, it's worth celebrating — but don't overlook the movie's message.
On a historic night at the Oscars on Sunday, acclaimed South Korean thriller Parasite swept the show, taking home four Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best International Feature, and becoming the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture.
It was a landmark moment that stood out in another year where the Oscars left out women and people of color across the board. In a way, it seemed to indicate that Hollywood is capable of recognizing international filmmakers and Asian excellence, even if it still has a long way to go.
And while we celebrate Parasite's deserved wins — hopefully with some homemade ram-don — let's not forget the movie's message, an indictment of inequality. While a room full of wealthy people were rightfully excited about the accolade, there’s a poetic irony in seeing members of the Academy, who are often thought of as the elite, rewarding a movie that is decidedly an examination of capitalism and class tension.
The movie, which follows a destitute family orchestrating their way into a wealthier family's life, is a searing look at the gap between the haves and have-nots, which some have interpreted as a call to "eat the rich." To see it celebrated in a room full of people at the height of affluence, while somewhat jarring, feels revolutionary. The ceremony, for starters, had one of the richest people in the world, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, as a guest, and gave out gift bags reportedly worth $225,000 — we all collectively recognize the privilege of the people in the room, making Parasite even more significant. In holding that message to the light, the film once again proved itself to be a universally recognizable story. And, it further showcased how important it is for the Academy to continue rewarding filmmakers and actors of all backgrounds, not just the straight, white men who have continued to dominate every category. These stories aren't for the comfort of the people in the room, they are so much bigger than that.
Parasite's big wins are monumental, not only on a historical scale, but on a representational one, too. After the movie took home the award for Best International Feature and Best Picture, a friend texted me, saying she was in tears over seeing so many Asian people on the stage, winning awards. Many pointed out that it was groundbreaking to even hear so much Korean being spoken onstage at the Oscars. If anything, it seemed to suggest that Crazy Rich Asians isn’t the one chance we had to see ourselves represented, that Hollywood was recognizing different groups within the Asian community itself.
Still, at the end of the day, just as Parasite's characters are neither wholly evil nor all-good, Asians aren't a monolith, and we can only hope the Academy's decision this year paves the way for more people of color to be able to tell their stories and be recognized for doing so.
As director Bong Joon Ho himself said through his translator during a Golden Globes speech, "Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films."
As we all (rightfully) continue to share memes of Bong and his multiple Oscars and "drink until the next morning" in his honor, it's important that we also continue to heed the movie's message, its unflinching directive to examine ourselves and the roles we play in inequality — lest we risk becoming parasites ourselves.