“Parasite”, directed by Bong Joon-Ho, is a South Korean film that has a surprising amount of controversy surrounding its success. It was originally aired in May 2019 and since then it has sold its rights to countries around the world. It has been playing in theatres in the United States since Oct. 2019.
Since its release, it has become an international award winning film. It has been a hit among viewers, movie critiques, and journalistic reports world wide. However, with its success has come a slew of backlash on social media, especially in the United States. Since its nominations for Best Director-Motion Picture, Best Screenplay-Motion Picture, and Best Feature Film-Foreign Language at the 77th Annual Golden Globes (the latter of which the film won), people online have questioned whether or not it truly deserved such recognition. Its recent nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards, the disrest on social media has begun once again.
It should be noted that many of the people dissatisfied with the attention the movie has received are those that refuse to see the movie on principal. This fact highlights the very reason their claims are unfounded: it is not easy for a non-English film to do this well.
Every now and then, social media will be abuzz with a foreign film that recently gained popularity on an online streaming service such as Netflix or Hulu, but it is rare for such movies to be acknowledged in the film industry. That is because it is hard for non-English movies to do well in the box office of English speaking countries. People tend to avoid movies that rely heavily on subtitles.
In contrast to that, people are using subtitles more than ever before, according to Dr. Rayanne Streeter, an assistant professor of sociology here at Maryville College. Subtitles are used in movies such as “The Quiet Place” and to help with comprehension in English movies. Streeter went on to clarify why these uses of subtitles receive less of a negative response than those used in foreign movies.
“The difference,” she said, “is rooted in Eurocentrism. People are not actively making these decisions, but we like to watch movies of people like us, otherwise we feel as if we are in the out-group rather than the in-group. It requires a lot of work that most people just don’t want to do.”
This in-group/out-group mentality also applies to how the movie awards operate. The very structure of award ceremonies like the Academy Awards is based off exclusivity that puts foreign films like “Parasite” at a disadvantage. Nominations are created by the Academy, a group of 90 individuals who are predominantly older white men. They vote on submissions for each category, and then it is the pool of nominees who vote on the winners.
The lack of diversity stems from the fact that most people tend to vote based on easy familiarity and for their friends instead of being objective. Nominees also have to campaign for their movies by hosting screening for the academy and voters. This excludes many countries and independent films who are unable to afford to campaign.
All of this leads to the conclusion that “Parasite” was at a major disadvantage when it came to garnering such international recognition. It is only the eleventh foreign language film in Academy Awards history to be nominated for Best Picture, and if it wins, it will be the first foreign language film to have ever done so.
Such recognition, when so much was stacked against it in the first place, highlights the movie’s quality, not just its popularity.
“Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” Joon-Ho stated in his acceptance speech during the Golden Globes. This call to action, if headed by both casual and influential viewers, would help expand the opportunities for non-western centered movies. Such an inclusive act would be just one step towards more diversity in the Academy Awards and other exclusive award shows like it.