oscars ceremony academy awards

What Parasite’s Best Picture Win Means to an Asian-American

Before Parasite, I couldn’t remember the last time I saw someone that looked like me on the big screen.

Yes, there was Crazy Rich Asians, during which I wept tears of joy and confusion at seeing other Asian-Americans on-screen, with some experiences similar to mine. But not completely. They didn’t speak Korean. I didn’t play mahjong. We were similar, but not the same.

When Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, most deservedly, took home the coveted Best Picture prize at the 92 nd Academy Awards, my mom texted me. “This is unbelievable.” It really was. I had hoped it would win, as it truly was the best picture of the year. But the Academy had a track record of being, as Director Bong called them, “local.” Were they really ready to have a foreign-language film win Best Picture?

It filled me with the most immense pride to see not only one Korean onstage, but a whole ensemble of them. Director Bong accepted four different awards, giving his speeches in my mother tongue (interpreted by Sharon Choi). Cast members such as the incomparable Song Kang-ho, Park So-dam, and Choi Woo-shik rejoiced in the background as producer Kwak Sin-ae spoke. Tom Hanks and Charlize Theron even led a chant, yelling for the lights to be turned back up to allow coproducer Miky Lee to deliver a speech as well.

While it was amazing to finally see the South Korean film industry get the recognition that it deserved, Parasite doesn’t fully represent me either. Growing up as Korean-American, I find myself always hovering on the hyphen, teetering between both worlds, never fully finding my footing in either. Truthfully, The Farewell delivered the most accurate representation of the Asian-American experience. However, its exclusion from the Oscars is definitely a better indication of how Asian-Americans are underrepresented and seen in Hollywood.

Hopefully, maybe, Parasite’s historic win will open the doors for more Asian cinema. More foreign cinema. More Asian-American cinema. It might be impossible for one film to do that much, but if anyone can do it, it’s Parasite.

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