The Academy doesn't vote for a film. It films its vote, as a moral zeitgeist of sorts, to the world at large. Does it always get it right with the choice of Best Film, though? Can't. That it is radiantly dynamic and self-correcting, year after year, is its notable achievement.
By the Academy, we mean the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — of America, with a much wider international membership, lately — that we know for the Oscars it hands out. And that has no Indian equivalent. Why? Never mind; enjoy your pan masala.
Mindful of the annual 'statement' the Academy makes with its top winner, must admit we got our predictions wrong ('Toughest race at the Oscars 2020', mid-day, Feb 8). Although only partly, since Bong Joon-ho and Parasite, as mentioned, were indeed most likely to win Best Director and Best Picture in our books; if Sam Mendes and his 1917 didn't. And the Parasite gongs for Best Original Screenplay (and, of course, Best International Feature) tallied with our list.
That said, what did we miss? That the most relevant/urgent American statement to be made from a global platform such as the Oscars was not much on the price of war (1917), or indeed the rise of authoritarian leaderships (Jojo Rabbit).
By picking up the first non-English film, and the first winner of Best International Feature, as the overall Best Picture, the Academy was making a full speech on acceptance. Even as Joon-ho warmed American hearts with his acceptance speech — doffing his hat to Hollywood contemporaries/greats, including his long-time cheerleader, Quentin Tarantino, in the same room.
Team Parasite accept the award
Note that the 'best foreign-language' category has been renamed. 'Foreign' replaced with 'international'. Xenophobia, or morbid fear of the foreigner, grips Trump's America, and so many parts of the world, including ours, where humans are being indiscriminately called illegal, based on their religion, or place of birth, while the same blood flows through all.
Tcha, it's a movies award; let's talk movies. Was Bong Joon-ho, of all, the one to set record in the Oscars' 92-year history? What about Bergman, Kurosawa, Fellini, Truffaut, Renoir… What about whataboutery (in general, in life)? Times they're a changin'. As they must. How about cheering for that (always)?
Sure Joon-ho is already Hollywood mainstream, with his last two films, Snowpiercer (2013), and Netflix original Okja (2017), essentially in English, starring Tilda Swinton, among other major American talents. The latter was globally pushed by the US streaming giant more than any film I know.
Is Parasite squarely a win for South Korea then? As an Asian, tempted to believe so — more so as an Indian who's watched more Hindi films that were remakes of Korean movies than from any other language past couple of decades. So what exactly happened with Korean cinema in late '90s that explains its progressive prominence?
The government. Seriously! Post the 1997 East Asian financial crisis, the state stepped in to raise Korea's self-esteem with direct, strong investments in its 'soft power' — K-pop bands, upwards. No, really. That's what's now resulted in Hullya (Chinese term for 'Korean Wave' in pop-culture).
With movies, they banned censorship. They injected funds into a Korean Film Council, spent on film training at universities, and facilitated a full-on film-industry, pretty much from scratch. Joon-ho belongs to the generation that directly benefited from the Nobel Laureate President Kim Dae Jung's (1998-2003) staggeringly rare, liberal cultural vision, and state intervention.
Which is to take away nothing from how universal, in its specificity, Parasite is. That half-basement could be in Bandra's Chapel Road (have seen one), and the beautiful house on Pali Hill, and nothing about the story would change. This isn't always true for cinema from Seoul. It's not an easy society/culture to penetrate. For all the Oscar gongs, the Academy couldn't find one performance in Parasite worth a nomination. I'd find it to hard to tell as well. Spotting good writing/filmmaking is easier. Joon-ho's Martin Scorsese quote at the Oscars podium was spot-on still: "The most personal is the most creative." Shouldn't matter where it's from — so long as you don't fear those one-inch tall subtitles! And you accept 'the other'. Good call, Academy. Better late than never.
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