‘Parasite’ win is a step forward for Asian diversity

March 21, 2020 — by Elaine Toh

“I will drink until next morning,” said Bong Joon Ho, the director for “Parasite,” in his acceptance speech at the 92nd Academy Awards.

Just as quickly as “Parasite” was announced the winner for several categories, the internet went wild. The award ceremony generated a flurry of hilarious reactions on Twitter, from Bong making two of his Oscar awards kiss to Bong staring and giggling over his award (and let’s not forget the many drinks he promised to have).

On Feb. 9, “Parasite” made history at the Oscars, winning four out of the six major awards it was nominated for: Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature Film, Best Director and Best Picture. Notably, this dark comedy horror film became the first non–English language film to win Best Picture, a historic win for international films, South Korea and Asians in general.

The film follows the Kims, a family living in a semi-basement, which is a constant reminder of their economic status which has driven them to live underground, but a glimmer of the sunlight still shines through like the hope they hold for a better future. Through some happenstance and deceptive methods, the Kims all find jobs with the Parks, a wealthy family that lives in a luxurious mansion. As the Kims continue to work, chaos starts to brew. 

Even before its Oscar wins, “Parasite” had major success, starting with its Palme d’Or (the top award) at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, which takes into account a variety of films from all genres from all around the world. Its critical acclaim translated quickly into box office sales, earning approximately $129 million internationally and $31 million at American box offices before the Oscars, according to The Washington Post (and, its sales have only increased since). 

Because of the Academy Awards’ traditionally more American-centric focus, the awards for the South Korean film have come as a shock to many, especially after the Academy’s snub of “Roma” last year.

In a 2018 Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report, professor Stacy L. Smith examined the inequality in popular American films, taking into account 100 films from each year from 2007 to 2017. According to this report, from 2007, Asians were only represented on screen for 3.4 percent of the movies, and by 2017, the percentage only rose to 4.8 percent. This slight shift revealed overall that there was no meaningful change in Asian representation during the years, Smith wrote in her report.

However, with 2018’s “Crazy Rich Asians,” 2019’s “The Farewell” and, of course, “Parasite,” Hollywood appears to be taking a step forward toward increased Asian diversity.

While it might be valid to argue that the Oscars awarded “Parasite” rather than other fan-favorites such as “1917” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” as a ploy to avoid “#oscarssowhite” comments, it’s still a historical moment for the industry: the first foreign language film to be awarded Best Picture, and Bong was tied with Walt Disney for winning the most Oscars in a single night.

As Bong said in his 2020 Golden Globes speech: “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of foreign language subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films. I think we use only one language: the cinema.”

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