Monday February 10, 2020
‘Parasite’ Fans Slam Oscars for Doing Marginally What Other Film Awards Don't Do At All
Immediate thought last night: Bummer for Quentin but at least it wasn't “1917.”
Second thoughts, this morning: Damn, this victory lap by “Parasite” fans is annoying.
It's the lack of perspective that bugs me most.
Last night, at the 92nd Annual Academy Awards, Oscar voters gave best original screenplay, director and picture to “Parasite,” Bong Joon-ho's movie about the Korean class system and its discontents. (Full disclosure: I'm so-so on “Parasite.”) It's the sixth time original screenplay has gone to a non-English language film (“Marie-Louise,” “The Red Balloon,” “Divorce Italian Style,” “A Man and a Woman,” and “Talk to Her”), and the second time, I believe, director has gone to a non-English language film (“Roma”).
Most important, it's the first time a foreign-language film, not to mention a foreign film, has won the Oscar for best picture.
Great. Chance to celebrate. But for some, it's also a chance to retroactively slam the Academy for not doing more.
Here‘s a column from Justin Chang, film critic at the LA Times. After doing his own victory lap (“They gave the Oscar for best picture of the year to—wait for it—the actual best picture of the year”), and after saying he’s not going to slam the Academy (“But today is not a day to spend dwelling on the regressive missteps and missed opportunities of Oscar past”), he kinda does that:
“Parasite” has dealt a much-needed slap to the American film industry's narcissism, its long-standing love affair with itself, its own product and its own image. It has startled the academy into recognizing that no country's cinema has a monopoly on greatness...
First, did “Parasite” deal the American film industry a slap or did some part of the American film industry do that to itself? And if it did, was it a slap? I'm having trouble even unpacking this quote. I guess he's saying “Parasite” startled the Academy so much with its quality that it left it no choice? But it always had a choice. On Oscar ballots, it had eight other ones. Hell, not recognizing quality is one of the things the Academy does best.
Overall, it feels like Chang is slamming the Academy for doing something marginally that other countries don't do at all. Most countries' film awards actually are monopolies, in that they tend to exclude foreign films from even being nominated. The Goya is about the best Spanish movies, the Guldbagge Swedish movies; the Golden Horse is for Chinese language films, the Blue Dragon for South Korean films. Not that that doesn't make sense. Most countries struggle to keep their own film industry afloat amid the Hollywood deluge, and awarding its own, and excluding others, is one way to do that. But at least acknowledge this difference.
Just look at best director. This past decade, the Academy Award has gone to directors from Britain, France, Taiwan, Mexico, Mexico, Mexico, America, Mexico, Mexico, and now South Korea. Kind of international. In the same timeframe, the Blue Dragon, South Korea's film award, has gone to directors from South Korea, South Korea, South Korea, South Korea, South Korea, South Korea, South Korea, South Korea, South Korea, and of course South Korea. They were the only ones eligible.
The Academy has made a lot of mistakes over the years, and broken my heart so often that I've really stopped caring, but it is among the most international of film awards. It might be good to recognize that.