Columns, Opinions

Han ’23: Parasite Won. So Did the Oscars. So Did I.

By
Staff Columnist
Wednesday, February 26, 2020

We didn’t know. We hoped, but at the same time, we didn’t dare to. Five of my closest friends and I packed into a room in the basement of the Rock, crowding around my phone as we streamed the end of the 2020 Academy Awards ceremony. On the stage of the Dolby Theatre, thousands of miles away, Jane Fonda opened the golden envelope that contained the name of the winner of the Oscar for Best Picture. She looked at the name, looked up and paused. We all held our breath, and that moment seemed to last forever. Even before she spoke, my gut told me something that my head refused to let me believe. History was about to be made.

The undeniable greatness of “Parasite” is the very reason I thought the Oscars would ignore the film as a contender. The Academy Awards have quite a reputation for being tonally insensitive and routinely awarding movies that they see as indisputable achievements over those that challenge societal norms and speak to the moment — not to mention for failing to award women and people of color. After all, the 2020 Oscars featured a nearly all-white cast of nominees for the acting awards and exclusively male candidates for Best Director. How could the very same voting body have recognized a South Korean film, featuring completely Korean dialogue and an all-Korean cast, as the best film of the year? Especially when there were so many other “Academy-friendly” movies that they could have acknowledged, especially the cinematically brilliant war movie “1917.” But Fonda’s pause put all my doubts to rest. Nobody pauses to read the name of a winner that would surprise no one and genuinely delight only a few. The pause is only there when the name of the winner is about to rewrite the history of the most famous awards in film and bring an entire country to its feet. Furthermore, the Academy awarded a truly important masterpiece just one year after the fiasco surrounding their Best Picture pick, “Green Book,” though that is not to say that the voting body is completely absolved of their past transgressions. But when Fonda finally said the word we had been waiting for — “‘Parasite!’” — my friends and I screamed so loudly in the Rock that I have no doubt that every other student that was at the library could hear us. Since many of us are ethnically Korean, we proceeded to tearfully call our parents in a wash of national pride. It was an emotional night that linked us together, much like that first night that we had watched it together.

I grew up a movie lover. Not a film expert or a student of the craft, but I was, and still am, a fan who enjoys seeing important stories being represented in one of the most beautiful and impactful art forms. I completely ate up all of the commentary about why movies are incredibly important: They bring people together, they not only comment on society but have the power to change it and, more than anything, film “is important because it gives us the ability to form lasting human connections … by letting us share our experiences with each other.” I grew up singing along with the ubiquitous tunes of “The Sound of Music” and “Les Misérables” with my parents. As I got older, the most popular movies, such as “The Avengers” franchise, proved to be a reliable source of conversation and connection with my friends and classmates. Other movies became teachers of the negative aspects of society and sources of personal transformation, such as a different Bong Joon Ho film, “Okja,” which helped inspire me to cut meat out of my diet. And my most beloved films touched me on a deeply hidden emotional level, and somehow managed to make me feel understood and loved through a screen. Those were movies like “Lady Bird,” which showcased an often contentious but endlessly loving mother-daughter dynamic so intimately familiar to me that I was already bawling after watching the first scene.

“Parasite” was the perfect storm: a movie that connected me to my friends, taught me about a true societal problem and personally moved me. I first watched it in an auditorium in Smitty-B, bundled up with my closest friends in matching pajamas and a pot of freshly cooked ramen. Though legally questionable, the movie stream had perfect clarity and accurate subtitles for the few of us who are not Korean. And the movie itself did not disappoint our sky-high expectations. It was like a cinematic roller coaster, complete with audible gasps and expletives. I distinctly remember wanting to crawl out of my own skin several times, out of the sheer discomfort that came with the masterful buildup of suspense. Few movies have left me speechless when the final scene finally cuts to black, but “Parasite” rendered me catatonic for several minutes. It was a movie of black humor, laying bare the most flawed aspects of modern society. It took capitalism to task in a manner that showed that each and every person, whether wealthy or poor, was both a victim and a perpetrator in an economic system that pits everyone against each other. In a political climate that emphasizes the haves versus the have-nots, it is hard to imagine a more timely masterpiece, or one that is more relatable to so many people around the globe. It is fair to say that “Parasite” hit me like a truck: It espoused the same anti-capitalist message that I had, albeit in a far more elegant way, but it also left me feeling a little dirty about my own role in the system. Visually stunning and entirely unforgettable, there is no doubt that “Parasite” is an all-caps IMPORTANT movie, and everyone should make the time to watch it.

“Parasite” is not the kind of movie that allows any audience — a group of college friends, a theater of Hollywood A-listers or its home country of South Korea — feel good about themselves. But somehow, it allows all of us to feel proud of ourselves. Korea can take pride in being the birthplace of a revolutionary piece of art that upset traditional favorites to become the first foreign-language film to win the highest honor in film. The Academy can pat themselves on the back for finally overcoming that “one inch tall barrier of subtitles.”  And our group of friends, both Korean and not, can cheer for the victory of a movie that we all love and that helps bind us together.

Bliss Han ’23 can be reached at bliss_han@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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