So, I’m standing in a 75-minute wait line at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. It’s nearly midnight. I anticipate experiencing the Nightmare-Before-Christmas rendition of a classic attraction. My friend and I were talking about movies. She turns and asks me if I’ve seen Parasite. Now, I had no clue what Parasite was, and frankly, by the sound of the title, I was less than curious (I get spooked easily. Don’t ask me why I wanted to ride the Haunted Mansion). But, nonetheless, I asked my friend what it was about.
Directed by Bong Joon Ho, Parasite (2019) is a dark comedy thriller featuring a family living in poverty and struggling to make ends meet. Together, they conspire to be employed by a wealthy family and gradually infiltrate the household, leeching them of their wealth. I loved the plot and it intrigued me, but I can’t even watch Silence of the Lambs without crying, so I had zero intention of watching it. I never thought about it afterwards.
Flash forward weeks later. I was on Facetime with my boyfriend. He asked me if I want to watch a movie with him. I said yes. (Movie date with my boo thang? I’m down.) Turned out, he wanted to watch Parasite. (Okay, maybe not my ideal movie date.)
Despite my reluctance to watch a thriller (I’m not kidding when I say I get pretty stressed out by thriller films), we did. And, I’m so glad I watched Parasite. No spoilers, but if you plan on watching Parasite, I suggest leaving a 2-hour window to sit and reflect in silence, because let me tell you: it was hecka trippy. The dreary, dismal cinematography capitalizing on the Kim family’s dilapidated, crumbling financial state. The grim and ironic portrayal of corrupt wealth laced with foreboding and melancholic piano motifs. Parasite highlights the disparity between social classes in the most chilling, dark-humorous way, having me sitting on edge as I watched everything unravel.
As of late, this thriller comedy has, without a doubt, generated an unexpected level of cultural significance. This week, Parasite took home four Oscars in one night, a feat was last accomplished in 1953 by Walt Disney. But, what’s more is that Parasite is the first foreign language film to win Best Picture. While this win overall is a cause for a celebration, it is also an opportunity to interrogate just why this is such a power move.
Bong Joon Ho said it himself: “The Oscars are not an international film festival. It’s very local.”
Through 92 years’ worth of Oscar history, the Academy Awards has been honoring predominantly white films. The constant recognition of exclusively American stories fuels this white-saturated fire that has always raged through western popular culture. Perhaps Hollywood has finally exhausted its market of white directors telling white stories exclusive to white experiences. This new acceptance of foreign experiences shows in the way Parasite enters this white-saturated scene with a Korean story told by Koreans through an all Korean cast.
Of course, this win wasn’t completely welcomed. Some individuals complained that Parasite was unAmerican for not telling an American story, or that it didn’t appeal to their tastes because the movie wasn’t in English and had subtitles instead.
But, that’s more the reason why Parasite’s Academy Award win is necessary in popular culture. The film’s victories at the Oscars represent the much-needed recognition of the artistic works of Asian producers, directors, and actors have been denied of for so long. This accomplishment opens the doors for more foreign films to be received in American culture as more than just international. It’s one step closer to normalizing the foreign stories and storytellers in western pop culture.
Bottom line, Parasite is the win that the Asian community in cinema and Hollywood deserves.