illustration by Ren Rader
From the moment that Eminem materialized from beneath the stage, rapping into a microphone so improperly synced that it was like watching a silent dream of the early 2000s, I knew I wasn’t going to love the Oscars this year. I already had plenty of reservations about the award show this year, ranging from its inherent racism. To institutional male bias to a continued inability to award films that aren’t palatable enough for the predominantly older white male crowd who still inundate the Academy.
Suffice to say, the cards were stacked against Hollywood’s glitzy, opulent pat on the back. Yet it did something I never expected it would do — it surprised me.
The surprise was when South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho’s film “Parasite” won four Oscars. First for Original Screenplay, then Best International Feature Film, then Best Director and then the final award of the night, Best Picture. No South Korean film has won Best Picture, nor has someone from South Korea won in any of the categories that Bong won in.
To say it is monumental for him and thus deserved recognition that it gives to the South Korean film industry (an industry overlooked by the Academy) is an understatement. Though, the wonder that is “Parasite” doing the double in the best film categories should be coupled with the reality that it in no way should overshadow the drab nature of the night nor the fact the award show is still riddled with issues of being unable to look beyond its narrow scope.
By that, I am again reiterating points I and so many others have made. And it shouldn’t be forgotten when looking back on the 92nd Oscars that although they didn’t give Best Picture to a racist waste like “Green Book” and gave it to a deserving film, the Oscars still fundamentally favored white actors in historical dramas, and it shouldn’t be forgotten when looking back on the 92nd Oscars that although they didn’t give Best Picture to a racist waste like “Green Book” and gave it to a deserving film, the Oscars still fundamentally favored white actors in historical dramas, a criticism levied against them for decades.
So after Bong’s win, the surprise stopped there, for the reality of the situation flooded back into view. The Academy didn’t nominate critically acclaimed films from other award shows (like the Screen Actors Guild and Spirit awards) like “Uncut Gems,” “The Farewell” or “Waves” but instead gave “Ford vs. Ferrari” four nominations and two Oscars.The film showed that America’s obsession with cars unfortunately didn’t peter out after “Cars 3.” This choice also demonstrated the continued appraising of movies about American exceptionalism at the expense of films about literally anything else. It was another piece of evidence towards the case that the Academy has yet to live up to what it was made for, an institution that awards the best films from across the globe, not just American ones.
Now that isn’t to say there weren’t some highlights of the night. Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph were superb at easing the strange tension that had entered the room by demonstrating a level of self-aware humor that even had Martin Scorsese chuckling. Laura Dern’s win was something everyone could smile about, the crowd erupting in unified praise for an actress whose continued success is something we can all hope won’t end soon. Seeing Florence Pugh get the recognition she deserves was also a nice touch, though it then reminded me immediately that neither of the leads in “Booksmart” got a nod from the Academy.
That train of thought was the theme of the night. For each step that the Oscars made towards possible growth, towards modernizing their nominations and paying attention to what the other award shows and columnists have said for the past year, they took two loafer-sized steps back towards the 50’s.
Again, my thoughts and reservations were echoed in almost a parrot-like fashion after the show was over, the New Yorker’s Adrian Brody immediately publishing a column whose main gist was to remind all those excited about “Parasite” that on the whole the night was slow and predictable, and its win in no way fixed the main issues of the Academy. The New York Times published a column by Walter Chaw titled “Parasite’ Won, but Asian-Americans Are Still Losing” where he discusses how the issues of being constantly stereotyped aren’t solved just by a non-white film winning the Oscars. Few are tricked into thinking the Oscars have changed, but thankfully they all discussed aspects of the show that were good to see.
“Parasite” got the wins it deserved, Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph should host next year, and we may never have to talk about “The Joker” ever again. A year was long enough.