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Opinion: Stop Perversing Parasite’s Oscars Win for Your Xenophobic Agenda

Alex Wang
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Film poster for Parasite, the big winner of the 2020 Oscars.

The year 2019 has seemingly ended a long stint of Hollywood’s lack of Asian film representation with mainstream hits such as Crazy Rich Asians, The Farewell, and now Parasite. But Parasite pushes the bar of achievement even higher — a spectacular four Oscar win with Best Picture, Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Original Screenplay — adding the director Bong Joon-Ho to the small list of people with three personal wins in one night.

The record-breaking win was a surprise even for Bong Joon-Ho despite already winning the top prize at Cannes, as he states, “The Oscars are not an international film festival. They’re very local.” The Oscars also has a controversial track record against international film wins, demonstrated not long ago with Roma’s unsuccessful bid for Best Picture, which makes Parasite’s win that much more unique. 

For those who have yet to watch this comedy/thriller, the win for Parasite is well warranted for its expressive cinematography, unsettling exploration of human nature, and nuanced symbolism that goes beyond just the representation of social class but also introduces references to Korean culture and mannerisms. For films that tackle one of the biggest topics of today’s political climate, economic disparity, everyone first thinks of Joker, myself included. However looking back after watching Parasite, it’s clear that Parasite is what Joker wanted to be. 

[If you want to learn more about Bong Joon-Ho’s decision making behind the film’s motifs read our interview with the director himself.]

But it’s important to note that while reception for this film has been positive, the Oscars win has sparked some controversy. A National Review article describes Parasite’s win as “anti-American” and amusing for “idiots who yearn for revolution and communism.” Conservative pundits also tweeted out “These people are the destruction of America.” Most recently, even President Trump spoke out against the win, asking “What the hell was that even all about?” at one of his rallies in Colorado. As an Asian-American, it’s well-ingrained for me that in America, all “Asians” are compartmentalized under an umbrella term covering all countries and cultures that vary drastically in the continent as a whole. As an “invisible minority” our identity is only utilized for any narrative that usefully fits the agenda of other races. But after seeing the angry reactions towards a simple award given to a Korean movie, suppressed racial epithets from American xenophobes are loud and clear. 

For some Americans, listening to imperfect English and reading subtitles while watching films prove to be insurmountable tasks to overcome. Some forget that their ancestors were once immigrants to this country as well, forgetting we live in a small world where–surprise!–people of different cultural backgrounds exist all throughout America! Is it also so hard to believe that this year, an Asian film is just plain better than anything that came out of Hollywood? It’s surprising to see that xenophobia would be a topic after an awards ceremony for a film, either because “threatening” non-white narratives are becoming more prevalent in media, or because sadly some people just can’t enjoy a movie for being a movie. 

Kwak Sin Ae, Bong Joon-ho, and the cast and crew of Parasite. Photo by ABC/ ERIC MCCANDLESS.

Parasite’s international film win is propagating conversations and building respect for Asian film and media. Yet, going back to the point of “Asians” as an umbrella term, the win undeniably goes to South Korea. It is until the conversation is observed by an American perspective, does the win get labeled as a shared Asian victory. For Americans of Asian ethnicity, there is still much ground to cover. 

On a good note, we can celebrate Parasite’s win as another step towards Hollywood’s welcoming gesture of global inclusivity for the American film audience. I’m hoping that this acceptance stays consistent in the years to come, as inclusivity should be welcomed not feared. If we look past the opinions of a few loud, aggravating voices, we find that art and film can be an experience that is both universally shared and loved by all.

Bong Joon-ho. Photo by DAVID SWANSON/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
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