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‘Parasite’ Oscar win opens the doors for more foreign language films in popular cinema

This past Sunday, the Academy Awards proved that there may actually be a legitimate reason for it to exist. The ceremony was complete with all the usual fanfare: celebrities made fumbling speeches with vaguely political messages, everyone explained who they were wearing, and nominees forced smiles as they watched the winners of their categories get called up to the stage. Outside of the usual pomp and circumstance, there were two very clear anomalies which lent the generally indulgent proceedings something akin to legitimacy: Eminem showed up and performed the only song of his everyone knows: “Lose Yourself” and a foreign language film, “Parasite,” won Best Picture. 

“Parasite,” a South Korean film directed by Bong Joon-Ho, not only walked away with a win in the Best Picture category, but also in Best International Feature, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director. This is a significant win for the South Korean film industry, especially considering that it has only been in existence as it stands today since the early nineties, after the country’s move to a democratic government. Joon-Ho himself was stunned after receiving more than one Oscar, as he only prepared for one speech, let alone four.

Some might suggest that this is a big step forward in terms of acknowledging foreign films in America, but caution is necessary when equating the members of the Academy that vote on the award categories with the views of everyday citizens. According to Good Morning America, of the approximately 8,000 members of the Academy in 2018, just 31% were women, and 16% were people of color. These demographic numbers and typically white and male nominations for the awards resulted in an uproar on Twitter with the hashtag “#OscarsSoWhite” trending again. It often seems as though the Academy is making a conscious effort to appease the public rather than actually reflect it.

What is significant is the effect of the publicity that Joon-Ho’s film has received resulting from his film’s numerous awards. Although the film is already available on DVD and for streaming, The Guardian reports its one-day ticket sales rose as much as 213% compared to the same day a week before, and it is expected to soon become the fourth most successful foreign language film released in U.S. theaters. New York Times contributor Sandra Garcia asserts that part of the reason that the public is willing to pay a foreign language film so much attention is that many streaming platforms like Netflix provide access to an immense library of subtitled content, thus providing many American’s with an avenue for getting their feet wet before they sit through an entire subtitled feature-length film.

In essence, the Oscars are an indulgent ceremony, by the Academy, for the Academy, but it’s sheer power of to popularize a film that has been largely considered as having a niche audience is remarkable and worth taking note of. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, while about half of the entire world’s population can converse in two or more languages, the same can only be said for 20% of Americans. So while I will never accept the idea that the Oscars represent some higher sense of what a good film is, hopefully the award can encourage moviegoers to seek out foreign-language films. Perhaps one day audiences won’t be deterred from consuming great movies because of the subtitle barrier.

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