The 92nd Academy Awards, or Oscars, took place on Sunday, with the usual glittering gowns, adoring fans, stale jokes, flashing of bulbs, (some) beloved celebrities and the famous red carpet.
The show drew in an average of just 23.6 million viewers – a 20% decrease on last year’s show and an apparent low for Hollywood’s biggest night – and, though female filmmakers and people of colour were largely omitted from the top categories, the Oscars made it up (kinda) in other areas. Taika Waititi became the first indigenous New Zealander to win an Oscar, winning Best Adapted Screenplay for his Nazi satire Jojo Rabbit and dedicating his acceptance speech to “all the indigenous kids in the world who want to do art and dance and write stories – We are the original storytellers and we can make it here as well.”
In a win for representation in animation, Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, Bruce W. Smith and Everett Downing Jr. Onstage won Best Animated Short. Many of us “grew up” with the concept of Hair Love when Matthew first tweeted about it back in 2016, following its development from crowd funding and finding a producer, right through to its Oscar nomination. For a lot of us, this win felt personal. Producer, Karen Rupert Toliver, described the film as a labour of love that stemmed from “a firm belief that representation matters deeply,” especially in cartoons “because that’s when we first see our movies and it’s how we shape our lives and think about how we see the world.” We are not worthy!
Best Documentary Short went to “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (if You’re a Girl), Carol Dysinger, and Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir won the Oscar for Best Original Score, for Joker, making her the first female winner since 1997, and only the third female winner in the Oscars’ 92 year history. In her inspirational acceptance speech, she said, “To the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters who hear the music bubbling within, please speak up — we need to hear your voices.”
Most prominently, the South Korean genre-bending masterpiece, and my personal favourite, Parasite picked up four awards from six nominations: Director, International Feature Film, Original Screenplay, and the coveted Best Picture. The press have dubbed it a ‘clean sweep’ and ‘historic’, primarly because it is the first non-English film and first South Korean film to win Best Picture, and the first film to win both Best Picture and Best International Feature. Having had the pleasure of seeing Parasite back in November, I haven’t gushed about a film this much since Moonlight and The Favourite. Everything about it was an exhilarating cinematic experience, and now that it has won at the Oscars, I expect everyone to be racing to go see it soon and join me in this basking of second-hand glory.
Directed by Bong Joon Ho, Parasite centres around two families, at opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum, living their regular lives in ‘the polarising wealth gap’ that should keep their worlds apart, but find themselves intertwined in increasingly unexpected ways. Focusing on Korea’s, and the world’s, social classism, it reflects our obsession with status, materialism and where envy can lead us. It’s a fantastically written script that never completely allows us to dislike any of the characters or judge them and their behaviour (maybe until further in the film). Perhaps, deep down, we understand or even accept the family’s need to hustle, scheme and do everything necessary to ‘better’ themselves. Joon Ho and the incredible cast manage to pull almost every human emotion from the audience; a dark-comedy, thriller, drama, with traces of horror, so you laugh (a lot), are almost reduced to tears, wince on occasion, hold your breath and widen your eyes in disbelief at the edge of your seat.
It’s not hard not to see why this film has caused such an impact. Other than being a brilliant piece of film-making, it comes at a time of public discourse and continuing social rebellion, and gives us a breath of fresh air – a break from the plethora of comic-book-superhero-box-office-blockbusters and remade-rebooted franchises loop that we’ve become stuck in in the last decade. It can also be seen as a ‘disruptor’; an game-changer that displaces the existing market trend and leaders.
Without resting all hopes of industry diversity on one film, Parasite also feels like this year’s film to gather round and support in the ongoing fight for better representation. With the lack of diversity at this years Oscar’s, Parasite almost feels like a victory for us all, like Black Panther or Moonlight in the previous years. In theory, these wins should open up opportunities for directors, writers, composers, editors, sound engineers, cast crew members and cast members of colour, particularly in another year of minimal representation in major acting categories (Cynthia Erivo was nominated Best Actress for Harriet, and no cast member from Parasite was nominated, despite the outstanding success of the film), however the impact of Parasite’s historic win will remain to be seen.
The film-loving public (or #filmtwitter) have been starved of original content and are clamouring to their nearest cinema, desperate for new and diverse ideas. This is what we want – we have spoken! Instead of #OscarsSoWhite and even more discussions on ‘firsts’, the Academy will hopefully now reflect on the type of films and individuals they nominate. If not all Academy voters are watching the films contending for nomination, then is this really fair ? Can the Oscars remain relevant if the Academy continues to refuse to be representative of society?