This past month, South Korean thriller film Parasite took home the Academy Award for Best Picture, making history as the first non-English film to win the Oscar. The film follows the impoverished Kim family as they become employees of the wealthy Park clan and infiltrate their upper-class lives. Highlighting issues of income inequality and capitalism, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite also swept up awards for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature.
Previous films to have been granted the highly esteemed Best Picture award are those commonly directed and produced in Western societies, thus limiting recognition of foreign films. The Academy has received significant backlash for their tendency to nominate films reflecting white stories directed by white men. Since the Golden Age of cinema, Hollywood has overlooked foreign language films, instead rewarding those that conform to the ‘blockbuster’ standards of Western movies. However, because Parasite has achieved mainstream popularity and received significant critical acclaim, a shift in this limited scope will potentially, and hopefully, occur.
At the very least, people who do not regularly consume media outside of those produced in the Western realm of cinema should feel urged to give international films a try, regardless of the language barrier. As expressed by Bong Joon-ho during a Golden Globe acceptance speech, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” Another flaw contributing to the absence of foreign films on an international stage is that production and advertising budgets are significantly smaller than those allocated to American projects.
In the IBCoM community, many of us have been raised in international settings where the films we have viewed are not in the English language, thus would not have even been considered by the Academy to win an Oscar. Having spent most of my own childhood in the United States, I was rarely exposed to non-Western media and never considered the wide range of creative film that exists beyond those traditionally praised in Hollywood. Now, after joining IBCoM and being surrounded by people from a variety of cultures, I have formed an appreciation of foreign cinema and expanded my film library to include those that stray from the English language. I have come to realize that watching media in my language of fluency, although comfortable, has drastically limited me from engaging the range of visual art that exists. I reiterate Parasite director Bong Joon-ho’s message that foreign cinema should be celebrated rather than ignored, and would encourage anyone to watch his film and any others that differ from your born language.
While minorities still remain largely underrepresented in the Academy, Parasite’s success at this year’s Academy Awards will hopefully overturn traditions that have failed to recognize the visions and creativity of foreign language films.
Author: Gigi Migliazzo
Editor: Kat Nivera