Why Parasite Will Win Best Picture at the Oscars
Parasite is the best picture released in this last year. I think it will win the Best Picture category at the Oscars. But not because it’s the best picture.
It is not very difficult to make a case for Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-Ho) to win the Best Picture category at this year’s Oscars. Many writers have already done so. The film is classical storytelling at its best, and tackles class and inequality with a tender subtlety and empathy that is lacking in many films about such issues, certainly American films which usually have a distinct moral stance—an oppressor and an oppressed, a black and a white. The direction is precise and intentful, and the story unfolds in a simultaneously hilarious and horrifying manner. But most writers, if not all, think that 1917 (dir. Sam Mendes) will beat out the Korean social thriller.
I understand the impulse to think that 1917 would be a front-runner for the Academy. It is an entrant in a tried and tested genre—a war film that emphasizes valor, human fraternity, and the fragility of life. It hits the right emotional beats and reinforces notions of war and humanity that the Academy is well known to appreciate. The biggest proponent for 1917’s contention is the remarkable technical and physical feat achieved in producing the one shot film. It also has British actors speaking in British accents, and that’s always a plus for the Academy. Despite this, I don’t think 1917 will win, not because Academy voters think that Parasite is the best picture, but because they think it should be the best picture.
Let me explain what I mean by that. For the past few years, the Academy has received immense flack for underrepresentation and for being non-inclusive of peoples of color. It has also suffered from dwindling viewing numbers, although the 2019 Oscars’ ratings were higher than that of 2018’s. The Academy has tried to correct this by introducing more minority members and diversifying the program. The #metoo movement has produced immense negative media coverage for the behemoths and gatekeepers of the industry, which they are now trying to steer by empowering the voices of the subaltern.
This shift coincides with changing social and political perceptions of what the “average” American looks like and what sort of voices should be heard in the mainstream. There is widespread recognition of white privilege and of Hollywood elitism. White liberals have become overcome with a sense of guilt, particularly Hollywood white liberals, evident by the growing number of award acceptance speeches that tout the need to empower minority voices and acknowledge their own privileges.
This guilt manifests in attempts to empower peoples of color not necessarily because white elites believe that these voices should be empowered, but in order to absolve them of their own guilt, although some attempts may be sincere. Moonlight’s (dir. Barry Jenkins) victory over the conventional Oscar favorite La La Land (dir. Damiem Chazelle) is an indication of this process. While it would be nice to think that Moonlight won based on pure merit, Green Book’s (dir. Peter Farrelly) victory showcases that the psychology of Academy members’ voting process is more about their own guilty conscience than about rewarding true art.
Both the internalized guilt of the Academy members and the need to improve the Oscars’ external perception will play in Parasite’s favor. A foreign language film has never won Best Picture before and now would be the perfect time to break that ceiling. Some argue that if Roma (dir. Alfonso Cuarón) couldn’t do it, Parasite won’t. But Parasite is a lot more accessible and populist than Roma. It’s structure, pacing, story, and themes are also much more in line with Academy preferences than Roma’s.
A big factor that will skew in Parasite’s favor is the Oscars’ preferential voting system. While it may not be everyone’s favorite film of the year, almost everyone likes it and thinks it’s a good film. 1917, on the other hand, is much more divisive. Yes, it’s a war film that shows the brutality of war, but it also inadvertently glorifies war. It will certainly end up on the top of some voters’ ballots, but will also end up in the lower half of others. An increasingly anti-war liberal America and growing number of minority voters in the Academy will contribute to this process.
Even some of the voters that haven’t seen Parasite (many are known to vote without watching all the nominees) will cast it in the top half of their list, possibly even at the number one spot, simply because of its success at the box-office, the media hype it is receiving, its performance at other award shows, and their peers’ affections for the film.
It will be a tremendous feat if Parasite wins Best Picture. Whether it wins for the right reasons doesn’t truly matter. There’s no way of knowing the reasons anyway. What does matter is the message it would send to the world: nationality doesn’t matter, language doesn’t matter, genre doesn’t matter—simply art is rewarded. It might just prove to a kid in Korea or Kenya or India that they too could compete at the highest stage in filmmaking by simply trying to make the best film they possibly can.