Parasite’s historic Oscars victory really wasn’t meant to happen

Bong Joon-ho’s biting, darkly comical South Korean thriller Parasite wasn’t supposed to win Best Picture at the Oscars.

It was supposed to win International Feature, it was supposed to win Original Screenplay. It was even in with a chance at the Director prize.

But Best Picture? Nah.

That top prize is meant to be reserved for “regular” movies, as that anonymous Oscar voter told Hollywood Reporter last week. Parasite was meant to be relegated to that Foreign Language (now International Feature) category with all the irregular movies where people say funny things you can’t understand.

Get it? Because if a movie isn’t in English, then it’s not “regular”.

Parasite overcame 92 years of American parochialism to claim Best Picture. Picture: Kevin Winter/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

But somehow, Parasite did it. It won four out of its six nominations, including the all-important Screenplay, Director and Picture nods.

Even those who hoped it would happen, never dared to believe it.

It overcame the Oscars’ 92 years of American parochialism to claim Best Picture when no other non-Americans have done it before. Except the Brits – the Oscars really like their former imperial overlords. Not even the Canadians have managed to break into the tightly held category

In more than nine decades, only 10 non-English language films have ever been nominated in Best Picture before, so this is truly a historic moment in Oscars history.

So why now? Why Parasite?

It might be tempting to postulate that a Parasite victory was in part a correction on the part of the Oscars who nominated only one actor from a culturally diverse background (Cynthia Erivo) out of 20 slots, and in a movie with a comfortable narrative about historical slavery.

But it’s worth remembering that three out of the four acting winners last year went to thespians from a non-white background.

Parasite is now available to rent on digital platforms.

Parasite is now available to rent on digital platforms.Source:Supplied

Parasite has been winning awards all over the world, including in Australia where it won two AACTAs and the Sydney Film Festival Award.

Parasite has been winning awards all over the world, including in Australia where it won two AACTAs and the Sydney Film Festival Award.Source:Supplied

There is a feeling the Oscars came close last year with Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, a Mexican film that probably fell over at the last minute because voters didn’t want to give Best Picture to Netflix, which is disrupting the theatrical release model.

So the voters were primed. But really, Parasite won because, in one of those rare instances, the Oscar voters actually rewarded the movie that most deserved to win. It rewarded a movie for bold, gutsy storytelling.

It’s also a meticulously crafted film with a scathing critique about class and wealth inequality, told through two families – one rich, one poor – who find their fates entwined.

Its subject is one that resonates, even for 6000 voters who are usually classed among the elite.

Bong’s evocative and shocking film weaves the social lesson through a film that is twisty, darkly comical, visually impressive, frightening and, above all, entertaining. It expertly tackled the challenging tonal shifts without missing a beat.

It also has some powerful performances, which weren’t individually recognised by the Oscar voters (perhaps you’d like to guess why) but won the ensemble award at the Screen Actors Guild to a standing ovation.

Bong Joon-ho has been a popular presence on the awards circuit. Picture: Frederic J. Brown/AFP

Bong Joon-ho has been a popular presence on the awards circuit. Picture: Frederic J. Brown/AFPSource:AFP

Everywhere Bong goes – and he has been tirelessly promoting his film, his actors and his crew for months – he is greeted with open arms and enthusiasm from adoring fans. There’s even a name for them, the Bong Hive, and he can count Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt among his acolytes.

There is palpable love for Parasite, since it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in May – an international stage Bong wouldn’t label “local” as he did the Oscars.

With this win, maybe the Oscars are finally ushering in an era where it recognised the world beyond the American (and British) borders, especially in the most high-profile categories which is what mainstream audiences are paying attention to.

As Bong and his team have made their way around the awards circuit, he has stayed on message that it’s not really about foreign language films and English language films. To him, it’s all just filmmaking and storytelling – and the only barrier is subtitles about an inch high.

Backstage, when asked a question by a reporter about Asian filmmakers, referring to his win and Asian-American filmmaker Lulu Wang’s Best Feature win at the Independent Spirit Awards for The Farewell (a film many felt was snubbed by the Oscars), he said, “Me and Lulu, we all just make movies. It is the same.”

Parasite is available now to rent on iTunes, Google Play and other digital platforms, and it’s still playing in some cinemas, including a black-and-white re-release

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