It finally happened.
For the first time in the 92 years since the Oscars began, a foreign-language film took home the top prize of Best Picture at this year’s awards ceremony.
Parasite, a dark comedy thriller by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho cleaned up at the Oscars on Sunday night, taking home four awards (the last time any single person won that many awards was Walt Disney in 1954) including Best Directing, Best International Feature Film and Best Original Screenplay. And of course, Best Picture.
The win was what hopefully will be a watershed moment for all future Oscars to come.
During his Golden Globes speech (he had won in the Best Foreign Film category), Joon-ho spoke about not only the importance of culturally diverse films, but the casual willingness by many Americans to write off media from other countries.
“Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” Joon-ho said.
It’s true. So many wonderful films go unnoticed by both the Academy and the broader viewing audience because of the “language barrier.”
People have become so used to Western — and, specifically, American — media as the default in the world.
But films like Roma — which won several accolades last year and was nominated for, but did not win Best Picture — and this year’s Parasite, are proof that films outside of our cultural understanding can cross language boundaries and are more than worthy of being recognized for the valuable works of art that they are.
“I grew up watching foreign-language films and learning so much from them,” Roma director Alfonso Cuarón said during his acceptance speech last year. “Films like Citizen Kane, Jaws, Rashomon, The Godfather and Breathless.”
Foreign directors have been studying and watching American films for decades because they have thus far been held as the industry standard. Directors like Martin Scorcese, who was nominated for his direction of The Irishman this year, have held the old guard for what seems like forever. Don’t get me wrong, Scorcese is a national treasure. But maybe it’s time that we learn and hold up directors from other countries as well.
Two of my favorite films from 2019 were foreign-language works: Parasite and The Farewell, which, in my opinion, was snubbed during the Oscars this year.
The lack of visibility of foreign films is also inseparable from the larger issues of representation at these awards shows. In 2015, culture writer and academic April Reign created the now-viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhite and with a few exceptions in the last few years, it’s mostly held up. This year, when only one black actor — Cynthia Erivo — was even nominated, the criticism resurfaced.
All of the actors that won awards this year were white. No women were nominated for Best Director.
We can and must do better.
One notable win for diversity at this year’s Oscars was “Hair Love,” which won Best Animated Short. The piece, which is only about six minutes long, follows the story of a black father figuring out how to style his young daughter’s hair. Directed by Matthew A. Cherry, and co-produced with Karen Rupert Toliver, the two made it clear how much the win meant not only to them, but to the larger black community.
“‘Hair Love’ was done because we wanted to see more representation in animation, we wanted to normalize black hair,” Cherry said.
You can watch the entire short below or on Youtube.
As of 2018, 31 percent of the academy was women while only 16 were people of color. And despite being a part of the voting block, academy members are not required to watch the films they vote for. Which means, much of the time, members vote on buzz and what’s doing well in the box office. That part is up to us as moviegoers.
This year’s win by Parasite is huge. But let’s not let become complacent and definitely not let it be the last.
The world is much too vast.