Color me shocked — the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences actually chose to award their Best Picture award to a movie that really deserved it, Bong Joon-Ho’s “Parasite.”
For an awards ceremony on the brink of complete irrelevancy that celebrates an art form slowly bleeding out its cultural cachet, the Feb. 9 Academy Awards telecast from the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles was a refreshing reinvigoration of both. In yet another year where the Oscars were marred by accusations of racism, sexism and exclusionary selection practices, the show managed to sidestep all that talk by flipping the script in the movies and individuals it actually gave awards to.
For those unaware of how much of a tectonic shift “Parasite” winning Best Picture represents, it is the first ever foreign language film to win that award. One may ask why that matters — the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was created in the 1920’s to serve two purposes: one, to screw over the union labor of the film industry (this purpose was short lived), and two, to promote and create a positive image for the film industry centered in Los Angeles at a time when the industry was beset by numerous scandals (sound familiar?).
The entire purpose of the organization and its awards ceremony was to act as good publicity — to show Hollywood at its best to the rest of the world.
That paradigm has now shifted as the rest of the world’s cinema is now fair game. That is not to say that the Oscars are now free from the accusations of unfairness (aren’t awards shows unfair by their very nature?) and biased selections — as long as Twitter still exists. We live in a time where anything and everything is politicized, problematized and parroted out by the hive mind known as Twitter dot com.
But this is the year that the Academy finally remembered that its number one job is to project an image of success and prosperity for its industry — an industry that increasingly relies on box office business not just in North America but on a global scale. And the 92nd Academy Awards saw wins in multiple categories for South Koreans, a Jewish New Zealander of indigenous Polynesian descent for Best Adapted screenplay, an Icelandic woman for Best Original Score and a gay man for Best Original Song.
It’s important to remember that these nominations are not decided by some room full of old white men sitting around smoking cigars and figuring out ways to keep minorities from being recognized. The Academy is comprised of five branches: producers, actors, directors, writers and technicians. Each branch nominates and votes on the categories from their specific branch.
Meaning the actors pick the actors, the directors pick the directors, and the writers pick the writers. According to Reuters, in just the last two years alone, the Academy has added over 928 new members from a total of 59 countries and has pledged to double the amount of minority and female Academy members by the end of this year.
And there will always be snubs. Jennifer Lopez for “Hustlers,” Eddie Murphy for “Dolemite is My Name” and Greta Gerwig for directing “Little Women” are the names most commonly mentioned as women and people of color unfairly left out of contention this year. A case can be made for all of them, as well as Adam Sandler’s performance in “Uncut Gems,” but no matter what, deserving people will be left out, year after year after year. It is the nature of awards shows.
Hollywood has traditionally been run by old, white male power structures, and change in the other direction has been slow, to say the least. So it is natural to view these awards with a degree of educated skepticism, even if that discourse goes, like clockwork, way overboard during each awards season.
But that change seems to have indeed finally arrived, though not in the way some observers expected.
And if it means more movies with the depth, aesthetic beauty and craftsmanship of “Parasite” are nominated and awarded at the Oscars, despite their country of origin, then it seems the entire endeavor has taken a massive leap forward into an era of renewed relevance for both the Oscars telecast, and for the cinematic art form as a whole.