Best Picture win for ‘Parasite’ was a long time coming. There’s still a long way to go.


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Emily Laytham

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made history last Sunday when it awarded a Korean film the most coveted title of the night—and, for certain cinephiles—of the entire year.

Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” carried the night with wins for Best International Feature, Original Screenplay, Director and Picture. The sweep was markedly unexpected given the Academy’s penchant to crowd non-American films into a single category (formerly known as the Foreign Language category) and thereafter congratulate themselves for acknowledging them at all.

But this year, something changed; this year, the Academy “[overcame] the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles,” in the words of Bong during his Golden Globes Best Foreign Language Film acceptance speech, and finally rewarded the year’s best movie as opposed to the year’s American-est movie. The source of this change is unplaceable. Perhaps it’s a diversifying Academy voting body, or maybe a mass, year-late apology for the 2019 win of Green Book, AKA the film version of “I don’t see color.”

But these explanations for success rob “Parasite” of its agency. It’s not proper to say The Academy awarded “Parasite” so much as “Parasite” — a scathingly dark and comedic take on class rivalry — demanded to be rewarded, much like its primary family demanded to rise from their lower-class status through means of immense cunning. “Parasite” revolves around underdogs; it is a story for them and, in the end, it won out. It did so on a night orchestrated by Hollywood’s big wigs, no less — the very upper-class elites that “Parasite” places under the microscope.

That irony may be one of the explanations for Bong’s levity throughout Oscars night. He laughed at his own Oscar statuette on stage, sending Twitter abuzz in the process; he repeatedly mentioned that he would be drinking for the rest of the night (and into the next morning); and, when asked about his inspiration for “Parasite” backstage, he succinctly said, “I’m just a very strange person… It’s really f—ing crazy.”

Oscar-winning words.

And, well, he’s not wrong. The film is wild. Even with its comparably smaller budget, the movie’s lofty ideas run toe to toe with those examined by Bong’s other recent works (“Okja,” “Snowpiercer”), albeit in a much more reserved way implicating fewer genetically modified pigs and more fascinating family dynamics. In “Parasite,” which features a comparably grounded examination of class divisions, Bong’s core metaphors are tighter, less muddled and, importantly, all the more delightful to watch unfold.

And though the film’s wild, rewarding finale might involve less fire than Quentin Tarentino’s “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” (and way fewer feet), it certainly doesn’t want for any sparks. When the narrative falls apart, it becomes uniquely Bong-esque in its frenetic pacing and unflinching weirdness. It’s equal parts fantastic and terrible to watch, only further driving home the film’s “point,” if such a concept exists: The foundations of wealth are necessarily messy and unpleasant to consider, particularly for those at the top. Bong forces us to consider them anyway.

To attribute a “Parasite” Best Picture win to a weak year (it wasn’t one!) or to Hollywood’s newfound “wokeness” (Greta Gerwig would beg to differ on that front) is naïve. More likely than not, a hyper-white, hyper-masculine movie will be crowned by The Academy next year, and think pieces decrying the death of cultural awareness will issue forth faster than Matt Damon’s Ford GT40 in the eponymous Ford v. Ferrari. This, too, will be short-sighted.

The fact is that “Parasite” won on its own merits. It’s a fantastic movie created by someone who knows what he’s doing and having fun with it along the way.

Which means, unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before The Academy becomes a contest of merit instead of one guided by ethnocentrism and ideals of American exceptionalism.

But for now, if just this once, merit won out. And I think that’s “f—ing crazy.”