Academy takes almost a Century: “Parasite” in The Best Picture Category

The Academy Awards, formerly/popularly known as the “Oscars”, has established itself as one of the most prestigious Awards for Artistic and Technical merit in movies. It is hosted by the United States of America since as early as 1929.

Historical Background of The Academy

The period around 1920-30s was one of apparent peace and rest between the First and Second World Wars. Cinema had started blooming all around the World. It had become necessary to create an international platform for the recognition of the work being put behind this visual Art form. This led to the formation of the Academy. The first Awards were presented in The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel at a Private Dinner hosted by Douglas Fairbanks.

The Academy Awards
The Academy Award popularly known as the Oscars

By the end of the Second World War in around 1945, The United States emerged as the most powerful both in terms of Military and Monetary assets. Needless to say, the Academy Awards being an establishment of the States, became the biggest platform for recognition of Cinema. The Award show itself is one of glamour, splendor, and charm hiring the best sets, Artists, Speakers, hosting Performances with a well sought out marketing budget.

The problem that arises here is that movies come from all parts of the World in all shapes and sizes, but the Academy Award for Best Movie only goes to American movies. In fact, the first prolonged visuals came from France in the 1890s by the Lumière brothers (Auguste and Louis Lumière), who were also responsible for manufacturing Photography equipment. The Arrival of a Train was 50 seconds of mere footage by the Lumière brothers. It had the viewers fleeting in panic, convinced that they were about to be botched down by a Train coming from the screen. The next breakthrough was followed by French Director Georges Méliès with the 12-minute long film Trip to the Moon. All of this evidence suggesting that the Hollywood Studio System came in much later, and movies mean more than just American movies.

Jean Luc Goddard on American Cinema
-The Academy

Criticism and Case Study

Why is it that the Academy consisted of a Foreign Language category for films? What constitutes a Foreign Language in the first place? Does anything not American fall under the Foreign category? Does it not destroy the basis and integrity of an International platform that recognizes all movies equally? These are questions for you to consider.

Do you really think Italian Director Federico Fellini’s Surrealist masterpiece 8+12 deserved an Oscar in the Foreign Language Category, where something as generic as some Laurence of Arabia bagged the Best Picture Oscar for the same year? Not just once, Federico Fellini holds a world record for the maximum number of Best Foreign Language Movie Oscars (a record of 4). How is it that somebody capable of bagging 4 goddamn Oscars, doesn’t receive one in the Best Picture category? Because it is an American award show in the disguise of an International Award show.

An era of ignorance

Further controversy followed in 1993, which was the year of Yasujiro Ozu’s masterpiece; Tokyo Monogatari. The year 1993 saw no nominations for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Movie category. Tokyo Monogatari would have been a clear winner if only the Academy took any notice of its non-English language counterparts. It was much later that Directors like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas discovered the movie. It has emerged as an influential movie for all times. Other than that, the Academy has anyways been blatantly blind-sighted to essential Film Movements all around the world like the La Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave). Anything that did not adhere to the conventional rules of Hollywood filmmaking was of hardly any importance to the Academy.

Still from Yasujiro Ozu's extraordinary masterpiece of ordinary life in Japan -
-The Academy
Still from Yasujiro Ozu’s extraordinary masterpiece of ordinary life in Japan

In light of such considerations, the Foreign Language Category was renamed as Best International Feature Film Category in 2020. Parasite was the first movie to win this title, besides being the Best Picture at the 92nd Academy Awards. However, the question still remains. Why does an International Award have an International Feature Film Category? It is really quite hilarious to think about.

The Nobel Prize is an International Prize based in Stockholm, Sweden. It does not have a Foreign/International people category. Let that sink in.

Why is the Academy Award important?

The Academy being the biggest Movie Award has immense power and influence over people’s decision to watch a particular movie. With South Korean film Parasite bagging the Best Picture Oscar in 2020, there was an immediate shift of attention towards the Cinema of the East/Orient. My friends are now familiar with the works of Directors like Park Chan-wook, Hong Sang-soo, Jang Hoon, Wong Kar-wai, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, and many more. These are names we were unfamiliar with even a few years before. The impact is such that Cinema enthusiasts can now recognize parallels between François Truffaut’s400 Blows” and Tsai Ming-Liang’sWhat Time is it There?”.

Jean-Pierre Léaud from "400 blows" at a cameo in  Tsai Ming-Liang's "What Time is it There?".
The Academy
Jean-Pierre Léaud from “400 blows” at a cameo in Tsai Ming-Liang’s “What Time is it There?”.

Let there be light…

Bong Joon-ho started making films almost 20 years before he received an Academy Award for Parasite. Did we know him before that? Did we watch his films before that? One Academy Award and I know Bong Joon-ho’s filmography by heart, and so is the case for most of my peers. For the record, some of his movies are even better than Parasite, but it took an Academy Award to make us notice all of that. In his Golden Globe acceptance speech, Bong Joon-ho made a heartfelt appeal emphasizing the importance of World Cinema. He said:

“Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”

Bong Joon-ho, Golden Globe Awards

I guess we have all been following that since.

Bong Joon Ho's Golden Globe Accepting Speech
(The Academy)

We come from a generation not as much characterized by the Internet as the Television. For 90’s kids, the English channels on our Television aired commercial English movies. We were not as mature as to understand that what comes on our Television is a product of who has the most money to put it up there for us to see.

What can we do about it?

As conscious consumers of this visual Art form, it is our responsibility to be aware of movies from different parts of the world. We should not be waiting around for the Academy to make us notice another Bong Joon-ho or Chloé Zhao with the tag of an Oscar. There are individuals as talented or probably more, than a Quentin Tarantino or a Martin Scorsese in almost every country. Watch the movies coming up from your country and see how it lives up to the Cinematic ideals from all around the World. Support your filmmaker friends, for someday they might exceed your expectations.

There is a quote from this famous Shonen Anime Naruto which reads:

It isn’t that if you become Hokage, everyone will acknowldege you. It’s the ones who are acknowledged by everyone that can become Hokage.

Itachi Uchiha, Naruto Shippudden
Itachi Uchiha from Naruto Shippudden
The Academy
Itachi Uchiha, from Naruto Shippudden

When the market is segregated by one big competitor, its opinion becomes the ultimate. Think of Operating Systems, and the first thing that comes to your mind is Microsoft. Similarly, when thinking about merit in movies, the Oscars have become the pedestal. Not saying, all of it is bad, but it definitely has its flaws. Follow significant Film Awards from other countries like the Cannes Film Festival (France), the Berlin International Film Festival (Germany), as well as the Venice Film Festival Awards (Italy). This is sure to impart much more clarity and awareness on the part of a conscious viewer.

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