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What Does The “Parasite” Win Mean For The Future Of The Academy Awards?

No Best Picture win could mean more to the future of the Academy than our most recent one. It wasn’t just an historic victory for Parasite, it was one that could mean something major for Oscar going forward. It’s almost as if voters listened to filmmaker Bong Joon Ho as the writer/director accepted his Golden Globe award for Best Foreign Language Film. He said the following: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” Those words are obviously true, but up until now, Academy members had been averse to rewarding this type of movie in the top category. Now that they have, where do they go from here? There are two clear and very different paths ahead…

As you all know by now, Parasite is the first Best Picture winner not in the English language. In fact, it was only the twelfth ever nominated in Picture by the Academy. The dirty dozen consists of, in chronological order: Grand Illusion, Z, The Emigrants, Cries and Whispers, The Postman (Il Postino), Life is Beautiful, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Letters from Iwo Jima, Babel, Amour, Roma, and now, Parasite. The first one came in 1938 and then there wasn’t another foreign nominee in the top category until 1969. Then, after a few more in the 70s, there was a multi decade gap until 1995. Since then, there were baby steps, but it wasn’t until the Academy Awards expanded their membership that contenders actually seemed poised to win. Roma last year came real close, before Parasite just now got over the Oscar hump.

Historically, voters go for the familiar, which doesn’t do any favors to international cinema. Among the twelve examples above, one was made by an American filmmaker in Clint Eastwood who they’d already given several Oscars to. A good portion of the recent nominees were by filmmakers that had already broken out in America, making their work in their homeland easier to swallow. It’s a situation where the Academy liked them, but never seemed to love them. Now, they’ve broken that barrier. The question is, will they continue to push forward, or will they retreat back to the familiar in the years to come?

The Academy has a tendency to act like they’ve solved a problem whenever they’ve taken the first step in the right direction. So, there is a real fear/possibility out there that this could mean that voters pretend that they’re given a free pass to revert back to old habits. One could argue that they even did a bit of that with going for Green Book over Roma, a year after getting slightly bolder with The Shape of Water. In that case, they’d be searching high and low for a traditional biopic to reward all over the place next year. That may very well happen, but there’s another possibility, one that is much more interesting. That, essentially, is seeing Oscar continue to break down barriers. Maybe an Animated title can win Best Picture one day? Perhaps a Documentary? More titles from the Best International Feature category not just crossing over into Picture, but winning as well? If that were to happen, then truly this Parasite victory would be the start of something bold and new.

Going forward, we’ll just have to wait and see what Oscar voters do. The Academy’s membership is getting more and more diverse, which sets the stage for exciting victories like we just saw. They have a chance to rewrite the rules and create a whole new definition of what an “Oscar” movie is. Will they do it? Or, will Academy Award winning films continue to have a narrow definition. We’ll just have to take a wait and see approach, for better or worse…

Stay tuned in the coming years to see how the Academy Awards do or do not change!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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