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A spirit that is not afraid

Column: ‘Parasite’s’ Oscars win marks a turn for the Academy

A view of an Oscar statue outside the 84th Annual Academy Awards show at the Hollywood and Highland Center in Los Angeles on February 26, 2012.(Lionel Hahn/Abaca Press/TNS)
A view of an Oscar statue outside the 84th Annual Academy Awards show at the Hollywood and Highland Center in Los Angeles on February 26, 2012.(Lionel Hahn/Abaca Press/TNS)


I jumped out of my seat the second the word left Jane Fonda’s lips. 

There’s no way.

An immediate feeling of joy coursed through my veins. Here I was in my friend’s living room, screaming my heart out and repeatedly slapping high-fives because of a movie. Not just because of the movie, though, but because of what this moment means. 

“Parasite” won the Oscar. 

Since I was a kid, I’ve been a fan of movies. Yes, that sounds pretentious, but for me, it’s a little obsessive. Movies are not only the family business; they’re what I do for inspiration, they’re my preferred method of self-care, they’re how I see the world. That is why the Academy Awards means so much to me. 

We can go back a decade, and I’ve probably only missed five movies nominated for best picture. I can rattle winners from each significant category off the top of my head, adding to the list of useless party tricks I possess. As arbitrary and dumb as the Academy Awards are, they’re the ones who tell the history of movies. It defines the year in film, while also reflecting what the country and pop culture are like at the time. 

Lately though, the selection committee has gotten worse at accurately charting which films mean the most at the time. Every year, I huddle around the TV and get predictably mad over what the Academy selects.

I’m not the one to advocate for Marvel movies or other generic blockbusters to win the biggest award. The Oscars shouldn’t be a popularity contest. Still, there is a clear message sent for every best-picture winner. 

The Academy’s tone-deaf behavior led to the creation of the term “Oscar movie.” For the last decade, this meant that whichever movie had either an actor playing a historic white guy, a white guy solving racism or a white guy who makes movies in it would probably win. 

“The Shape of Water,” “Moonlight” and “12 Years a Slave” were the only exceptions to this rule. The Academy tried to step out of its comfort zone in 2017 when they chose “The Shape of Water,” director Guillermo Del Toro’s rendition of “Beauty and the Beast,’’ but caused one of the biggest snubs in its 92-year history. The movie they overlooked was “Get Out,” a film adored by both critics and viewers that accurately represented what was on the nation’s mind that year. Instead, anonymous voters came out and said they had refused to even watch the movie because it being a horror movie would taint the honor of best picture. 

We’re accustomed to the hashtag #Oscarssowhite, and while that is true, the biggest problem with the Oscars is in the capacity they reward people of color. 

This is where “12 Years,” the first best picture winner with a black lead since 1989, comes into play. For black viewers, though, it’s hard to celebrate a win for a movie that depicts such trauma. Winning for “Moonlight” should’ve had that celebration feeling, but an all-time flub of announcing the wrong film squandered that moment. 

Representation isn’t always the Oscars’ strong suit. Last year’s “Green Book” selection felt like a slap in the face not only because it was a mediocre movie but because of the harsh criticisms from black critics who pointed out the regressive nature of relying on stereotypes to cure racism. Going forward, it felt like the Academy gave up on getting things right. 

So this year, when “Parasite” got nominated, it felt like the biggest joy was just the movie being recognized. For most people, including myself, it was the best movie in a year of great nominees. Director Bong Joon-Ho took viewers on an exhilarating ride with a style that resembled Alfred Hitchcock, all to tell a story about the pitfalls of capitalism and social hierarchy. 

The only problem was that the movie is in Korean. 

No foreign-language film had ever won the highest honor in cinema. 

Last year’s “Roma” was the prohibitive favorite to be the first but ultimately fell short. It seemed like “Parasite” would follow the same fate. Bong himself didn’t think his movie had a shot at winning. There are plenty of memes of him soaking up every award the movie earned because each easily could’ve been the last. Instead, it kept winning. 

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Coming into Sunday, it looked like no movie would unseat “1917,” the British war epic that had “Oscars movie” written all over it. By no means is “1917” a bad movie. Any other year I would’ve been content with it winning because of its achievement in movie making. But it wasn’t anything new. There have been dozens of war epics that went on to win best picture, and there has even been another “one-shot” style movie that won. “1917” is a movie that doesn’t add to the discourse of important films. 

So, when Jane Fonda had that envelope in her hand and announced “Parasite” as the winner, there’s a reason why the Dolby Theater exploded into an excitement rarely ever heard at this type of awards show.       

For once, the Oscars actually got it right. 

This win lays out the possibility for any movie to win. An entirely Korean cast took down some of the biggest names in Hollywood and showed that a movie about minorities could be about more than just racism. 

Bryce Johnson | Opinion Editor

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