Parasite’s win does not diminish Academy’s past failures

Long way to go

%28Photo+courtesy+of+the+Parasite+official+Facebook+page%29

(Photo courtesy of the Parasite official Facebook page)

By Alanna Joachim, Collegian Columnist

Just a couple of weeks ago, the 92nd Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, took center stage on the annual award show circuit. Not surprisingly, the nominee list held an assortment of well-known names in the industry such as Brad Pitt, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio and many more.

Unexpectedly, the award for Best Picture film was awarded to Bong Joon Ho and Kwak Sin Ae’s “Parasite.”

“Parasite” is the first non-English language to win Best Picture and its win was groundbreaking for the industry of foreign films. Although the win was not surprising with respect to the quality of the movie –  “Parasite” had won multiple other awards prior to the Oscars this year –  it was more so due to the Academy’s history of failing to recognize foreign films. Even director Kwak Sin Ae stated, “We never imagined this to ever happen… I feel like a very opportune moment in history is happening right now.”

Kwak Sin Ae is right. The win of “Parasite” marks an important and momentous occasion for foreign films. However, the success of “Parasite” should not diminish the failures of the Academy in the past towards international non-English speaking movies.

Since the Academy was established in 1929, only 10 non-English speaking movies have been nominated for Best Picture. Many of these movies have won other awards in other categories, such as Foreign Language Film. While these movies were not completely unrecognized by the Academy, it is appalling that it took 92 years for a non-English speaking movie to win the category for Best Picture.

Some might argue that these movies just simply weren’t good enough to win. Although this sentiment may ring true for some movies, the likelihood that every foreign film did not merit a win seems a bit small. Critics raved about movies like “Letters from Iwo Jima,” yet they came away from the Oscars without any kind of historical win.

One of the most notable and most recent foreign films overlooked by the Academy in last year’s nominations was “Roma.” While coming away with several other historical wins such as being the first Mexican movie to win the foreign language film category and the first win for Best Director for a non-English speaking movie, it lost Best Picture, among others, to “Green Book.”

There are other ways that the Academy fails to recognize international films. One example is Netflix’s “Lionheart,” a Nigerian movie about a struggling family business. Although the Academy recently changed the category of “Best Foreign Language Film” to “Best International Feature Film,” Lionheart would still not qualify because a majority of the movie is spoken in English, as Nigeria was colonized by English speaking people. The main criteria to be considered in the category is that at least half of the dialogue must be spoken in a language other than English. Despite the movie being shot in Africa, Lionheart is still not eligible in the new “International Feature Film” category.

In protest at the movie’s disqualification, director Genevieve Nnaji stated, “We did not choose who colonized us. As ever, this film and many like it, is proudly Nigerian.”

The Academy needs to realize that being an international film is not just about language, but about the culture and spirit of a foreign country displayed in the movie.

The Academy has greatly improved its reception to foreign films, and each year more films are being rightfully recognized for their value. They have even implemented many new members of voters of women, people of color and young people in response to the #OscarsSoWhite campaign directed against the Oscars’ historical tradition of lacking diversity. It’s been a long time in the making for a movie like “Parasite” to win best picture, but the Academy’s efforts to diversify its selection committee are still worth noticing.

The Academy needs to continue increasing its efforts to include diversity in both language and cultural aspects of films. Its history has showcased a tradition of overlooking important films that were non-English speaking. Recent efforts to improve diversity are a good start, but much more needs to be done before the Academy can be redeemed for their past failures.

Alanna Joachim is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]