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parasite-01
Credit: Georgia Ray

On Sunday night, 92 years of Oscar history were shattered when the South Korean film "Parasite" became the first film not in the English language to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. The win for "Parasite," alongside its three other awards including Best Director for filmmaker Bong Joon-ho, marks only the 10th time a foreign-language film was nominated for the Best Picture award in Oscar history, and the first time one actually won. 

Many critics cite the win for the South Korean film as a promising start for a more inclusive Oscars, an issue which many have begun protesting and drawing awareness to, and with good reason. About five years ago, the #OscarsSoWhite social justice campaign erupted into public attention after the Academy gave all 20 acting nominations to white actors for the first of two consecutive years. This trend reflects the dismal statistics on gender and racial diversity within America’s film and entertainment industry: The pattern of 92% of top film directors being men and 86% of top films featuring white actors in lead roles is a sobering statistic that was sadly reflected in the Oscars for far too long. 

So how did this year’s Oscars do? Not that much better from its previous renditions. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had a robust and competitive selection of diverse films, actors, and actresses to choose from for their nominees. But to no surprise, the Academy stuck true to its traditional viewpoint, handing out the most nominations to movies such as “Joker,” “1917,” and “Once Upon a Time. . . in Hollywood,” all films centered around white male narratives. Black actresses and actors were incredibly underrepresented, with British-Nigerian actress Cynthia Erivo being the sole Black nominee for her role in "Harriet." In the directors category, females were cut off from all nominations, despite it being a “banner year for female filmmakers.” 

Competitive female directors such as Lulu Wang for “The Farewell,” and Greta Gerwig for “Little Women” failed to get nominations, while males dominated the category. Combine that with the astonishing fact that only five women have ever been nominated for best director in Oscars history and you start to get a better image of how skewed the Oscars playing field really is against women and minorities. 

But should these statistics even surprise us? In 2015, the Academy’s voting body for nominations and awards consisted of 25% females and 8% minorities. This year, the new member class did not improve significantly, with roughly 32% being women and 16% being minorities. Everything about the Oscars is a sad reflection of the unequal opportunities women and minorities face within the industry, and the system’s unwillingness to change anything about it.  

"Parasite" and its Oscar journey followed this typical fashion when it failed to receive a single acting nomination, which omitted Asian representation within the acting categories entirely. The exclusion of Asians in acting roles, nominations, and awards is not a unique story. Only a handful of actors of Asian descent have ever won an Oscar, and Asian actors have historically held few roles in major theatrical releases. Despite films featuring Asian casts receiving nominations or recognition, the Oscars continuously fails to do its part in honoring and recognizing individual Asian actors and actresses. 

"Parasite" winning Best Picture is monumental in that it features a definite improvement to the abysmal trends and patterns of unequal representation of ethnicities and genders that are so typical of the Oscars. It was certainly a well-deserved award for the cast and crew. But let’s not forget the systemic, underlying issues still plaguing the Oscars and Hollywood industry this movie-watching season. The win for "Parasite" was a win for the thousands of deserving, hard-working women and people of color who struggle to shed the burdens of inequality and unequal opportunities within Hollywood. As we celebrate this historic win for “Parasite,” let’s not forget about the fight of those yet to receive their rightful equality and recognition. 

Credit: Alec Druggan

LARK YAN is a College sophomore from Toledo, Ohio studying Health and Societies. Her email address is larkyan@sas.upenn.edu.

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