The Oscars Needed Parasite Way More Than Parasite Needed the Oscars

The Oscars needed to cling to Parasite, kind of like a...well, a parasite.

Noel West for The New York Times

If there's ever been a Best Picture-winning movie that actually deserved every ounce of the surrounding hype, it's Bong Joon-ho's Parasite.

Parasite is nothing short of a masterpiece. The story about the parasitic relationship between two families––one rich, one poor––was unique, wholly original, and specific to Korean culture, but the intensely anti-capitalist themes of class warfare resonated with audiences around the world. It's a film that proves great storytelling transcends language, and more importantly––much like Korea's other international phenomenon, BTS––Parasite's overwhelming popularity proves that Western media is no longer the pinnacle of pop culture. We live in a globalist society; Pop culture is global now, too.

All of this is to say that Parasite earned all four of its history-making Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film), becoming the first non-English language movie to win Best Picture since the Academy Awards' inception in 1929. Parasite's four Oscars also tied Bong Joon-ho with Walt Disney for most Oscars won in a single night (barring the technicality that "Best International Feature Film" is awarded to the country instead of the Director/Producer). But in a larger cultural context, what is an Oscar actually worth?

Undoubtedly, Parasite's Oscar sweep will lead to more people seeking it out and, hopefully, diving into the rest of Bong Joon-ho's backlog, which includes other fantastic movies like Snowpiercer and The Host. And, of course, anything that leads to more global renown for a once-in-a-generation creative voice like Bong Joon-ho is a cause for celebration.

Still, it's important to remember that the Academy is a systemically sexist and racist organization with a majority white male voting body that has historically promoted the voices of white male filmmakers above everyone else. The fact that they made the right Best Picture call this year doesn't change the fact that they failed to nominate any female directors and only nominated one non-white actor, or the fact that they awarded Green Book Best Picture last year. It also doesn't change the fact that, while they acknowledged Bong Joon-ho, the Academy didn't nominate any members of Parasite's incredibly talented all-Asian cast, any of whom should have easily qualified.

The Oscars are losing relevance in the greater public conscience. From media outlet boycotts to viewers simply deciding not to tune in, more and more people seem to be realizing that the Oscars are, more often than not, nothing more than a masturbatory award show wherein wealthy people hold up white hegemony while pretending that they're pro-diversity. In some sense, the Academy needed to award Parasite Best Picture if they had any hope of staying relevant to viewers. After all, Parasite was the best movie of 2019 by a longshot, far better than anything that came out of Western media, and a failure to recognize that would have clearly exposed the Academy as overwhelmingly biased.

Parasite CJ Entertainment

That's not to say Parasite's win won't do legitimate good for the future of Hollywood. It very well might. If this win means that Hollywood starts to turn an eye outwards to global media, and actively seek voices from outside their bubble, that would be a huge shift in the right direction. But that's not a guarantee. The danger is that instead of viewing Parasite's massive success as an indicator of a major shift in global media consciousness, Hollywood executives could instead spend the next year trying to reproduce endless, doomed-to-fail Western takes of "Parasite meets X," and then write global cinema off the following year when none of their rehashes succeed.

While Parasite might get a visibility boost from its Oscars wins, the Oscars can never be credited with making Parasite a success. Parasite succeeded entirely on its own merits, spreading through word-of-mouth due to its incredible artistry and resonant message. On the other hand, had Parasite not won, every subsequent article would be focused on how an incredible Korean film lost to the likes of Joker or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood––yet another forever stain on The Academy. This year, if they had any hopes of staying relevant, The Oscars needed to cling to Parasite, kind of like a...well, a parasite.

But does that mean 2020 will see mainstream Hollywood cinema moving in a fresh direction, or will the next Best Picture be Green Book 2: Green Books Never Sleep? That remains to be seen.