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International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Parasite’s Oscar Triumph: One Huge Step for Foreign Films

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 09: In this handout photo provided by A.M.P.A.S. Best Picture Award winners for “Parasite” pose onstage during the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre on February 09, 2020 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Matt Petit – Handout/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images)

For almost a century, The Academy Awards have handed out the coveted “Best Picture” title. However, until this year, all 91 award winners were films produced in English. The lack of diversity in The Academy and reluctance from American audiences to engage with subtitles are credited as the primary barriers from foreign language films and success. Nevertheless, it seems that these factors no longer hold the significance they once did, with acclaimed director Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite,” a South Korean film offering an incredibly relevant commentary on modern class struggles, taking the “Best Picture” title at this year’s Oscars.

The Academy’s reluctance to hand out “Best Picture” to a foreign film, despite many clear winners such as the film “Roma”, is a symptom of a wider issue, a lack of nationwide engagement with these films. Despite winning Best Picture, “Parasite” grossed less ($131 million) than competing films “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” ($372 million), “Ford v. Ferrari” ($211 million), and “Joker”($1.1 billion), according to CNBC. It seems, regardless of the quality of the film, there is an inherent reluctance from American audiences to engage with internationally produced movies. 

Despite ‘Parasite’ becoming the first foreign film to win ‘Best Picture’, foreign-language films have not gone completely without critical acclaim in the past. Most major award shows, including The Golden Globes and Academy Awards handing out a “Best International Picture ” award as part of their annual proceedings, however, the gesture can be unintentionally condescending. The creation of solely non-English categories has long served as an excuse for the exclusion of these films from major categories, like “Best Picture”. The Academy addressed this issue in 2019, when the category was renamed, transitioning from “Best Foreign Language Feature” to “Best International Feature Film”, as it was agreed that the word “Foreign” had the xenophobic connotations. The official synonyms for “Foreign” are “alien”, “strange”, and “barbarian”, subconsciously implying inferiority towards these non-English films. 

This sentiment of inferiority towards non-English films has not disappeared with the Parasite Oscar win. Shortly after the movie’s historic triumph, President Trump addressed the decision at a rally in Colorado. “The winner is a movie from South Korea. What the hell was that all about? We’ve got enough problems with South Korea, with trade. And after all that, they give them the best movie of the year?” remarked Trump. 

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He continued to suggest alternate films that he viewed as more suitable for the Oscars’ win, including “Gone With The Wind”. This film premiered in 1939 and has been accused of incredibly racist portrayals of slaves in the Civil War era and romanticizing pro-confederacy culture in the South. During his rant about the movie, Trump admits he has not yet watched the ‘Parasite’ yet himself. Trump’s rant towards ‘Parasite’ exemplifies why foreign-language films have long been excluded from major categories: the majority of Americans write off these films before even watching them. 

While accepting his award at the Golden Globes for “Best Foreign Language Film,” Parasite director Bong Joon Ho directly addressed this unwillingness of American audiences to engage with subtitled films. “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” Ho said.

By Rebeka Tatham

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