Historic ‘Parasite’ Oscars win salvages a bland awards season

Parasite wins Best Picture at the 92nd Annual Academy Awards (Courtesy: Oscars)

‘Parasite’ and Joaquin Phoenix topped headlines during Hollywood’s biggest night. The 92nd Academy Awards recognized (and snubbed) the best film achievements of the year on Sunday.


Presenting the last award of the night, two-time Oscar winner Jane Fonda made a brief, satisfied pause after she opened the winning envelope for Best Picture. She knew that the Dolby Theatre would erupt in joyous applause as soon as she read out the winner. She announced the victor calmly with an obvious hint of contentment.

Parasite. Written and directed by South Korean auteur, Bong Joon-ho. The first film not in the English language to win the coveted Best Picture Oscar.

The audience rose from their seats. Not just in the theatre, but also in Oscar parties across the continent. A satisfying and refreshing end to a not-as-predictable film awards season.

Last year, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma almost beat Bong to this historic feat, but Peter Farelly’s Green Book ended up winning the top prize. Many suspected the same would happen this year with Parasite vs.1917 or Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. However, some felt that the reception towards the South Korean film was warmer, and that there was a glimmer of hope that it could pull off a victory over its English language competition. Bong Joon-ho himself exudes a charismatic, rock star-like presence among his contemporaries. Throughout the night, Parasite also received the louder cheers than the others.

And the film swept. Bong Joon-ho and his Parasite team also nabbed Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best International Film. It was gratifying. More than anything, it was a pleasant surprise to see the Academy divert from its standard patterns of awarding films about wars and about Hollywood itself.

As they veer off their standard paths of rewarding formulaic historical films and biopics, maybe there is hope for Hollywood in the future. Don’t hold your breath, though.

New Zealander director Taika Waititi also made history last night after winning Best Adapted Screenplay for the Nazi satire, Jojo Rabbit. Waititi, who is of Maori descent, would be the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar. He made special mention of Indigenous artists in his acceptance speech. “I dedicate this to all the Indigenous kids in the world who want to do art and dance and write stories.”

The other notable winner of the night was Joaquin Phoenix, who won Best Actor for the film, Joker. His acceptance speech caused quite a ruckus around social media as he denounced the egocentrism of human nature, and how that damages the environment. He made particular reference to veganism and the maltreatment of cows. To finish, he paid tribute his late brother, River Phoenix. “When he was 17, my brother wrote this lyric, ‘Run to the rescue with love and peace will follow’. Thank you.”

American Factory won for Best Documentary. As director Julia Reichert accepted the award, she praised the unionization of workers as a powerful force that shapes a better economy. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was also in the building, but alas, we did not get a reaction shot of him.

Aside from Parasite, the winners were mostly predictable. The Academy has received plenty of flack for its lack of diversity. No female directors were nominated, particularly Lulu Wang for The Farewell, Greta Gerwig for Little Women, and others. And despite being the night’s big winner, none of the actors from Parasite were given individual recognition, while Scarlett Johansson scored double nominations. Many felt that the women from Parasite were worthy of a spot.

Parasite’s win was certainly historic. Let us hope this is the beginning of a change in the Hollywood rewards system. (And more South Korean and International theatrical distribution in the West!)

For a full list of winners, click here.