The Financial Express

Was Parasite’s Oscar win a cultural breakthrough?

| Updated: April 25, 2021 13:11:12

Bong Joon Ho, right, reacts as he is presented with the award for best picture for ‘Parasite’ from presenter Jane Fonda at the Oscars, February 09, 2020, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles — AP Photo/Files Bong Joon Ho, right, reacts as he is presented with the award for best picture for ‘Parasite’ from presenter Jane Fonda at the Oscars, February 09, 2020, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles — AP Photo/Files

As the Academy Awards are about to kick off, people are curious about knowing whether the legacy of the previous year’s winner, ‘Parasite’, which is the first foreign-language film to have won Oscar as the best film, continues this year. 

‘Parasite’ is a Korean film made by one of the country’s quintessential directors, Bong Joon Ho, whose films represent everything that exists at the core of Korean cinemas. But Oscar has always been an American event. Among the hundreds of films that were nominated for the best picture in Oscars’ history, the number of foreign language films has only been nine; and ‘Parasite’ as a foreign film is so far the first to have taken home the honours.

Many wonder whether this signifies a global cultural shift or it is the start of a breakthrough that has been brooding in the global cultural scene for the last few years. Parasite’s win came at the same time as Korean band BTS became the first K-pop band to top the US charts with their album ‘Love Yourself: Tear.’ Another foreign-language song ‘Despacito’ has the record of most number of YouTube views with over seven billion views. All these indicate that English-language contents are slowly losing dominance in the platform.

Although it can be said that in the midst of the #OscarsSoWhite outcry, the Academy’s vote for ‘Parasite’ could be more of an investment in Oscar’s future as a relevant institution than of an appreciation of the art that is not American. However, the significance and potential of this victory in the world’s cultural landscape is undeniable.

When Mark Johnson, a member of the Board of Governors of the Academy, said, "Five years ago, ‘Parasite’ could have never won the Best Picture. The idea that a foreign-language film was seen by enough people to win is extraordinary."

There is certainly some truth in that. The first thing this win represents is a change in the power dynamics in the film industry. With streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime rapidly granting access to international audiences, foreign films are increasingly becoming harder for Hollywood to ignore.

This win took us a step closer to worldwide democratic access to cultural and creative power. Now that Netflix has already embraced global cinemas, The victory of ‘Parasite’ would only inspire them to do so even more.

Furthermore, it is opening up people’s minds to experience contents with subtitles and to experience other cultures. If wins like this manage to become frequent in the future, films from every culture will start to have an international audience. As diversity drives creativity, who knows what the future might bring in?

Digging deep down into the class struggle between the rich and the poor, which is ever-present in every country, ‘Parasite’ has managed to resonate with a universal audience. Through this Oscar win, it has reached the number of audience that no foreign language film could have ever achieved.

And because of the resonance it created, it has also made people realise that films from every culture are just as important as those from Hollywood. Hence, in this superhero-film dominated world, the stir this film has created is really profound.

Bong Joon Ho said during his Golden Globe acceptance speech, “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” His film ‘Parasite’ is the biggest proof of this statement and the immediate impact it has managed to have on the film scene is nothing short of a breakthrough.

Anyway, whether ‘Parasite’ will be looked back on as a film that has started democratising global cultural power or it will just remain as a good film, the coming Oscar can provide some answers.


Sadman Fakid is a student at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). Email- [email protected]



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