Oscars Still So White

Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece film Parasite, about class inequality and the complex nature of family, made history Sunday night at the 92nd Academy Awards, becoming the first non-English-language film to ever win Best Picture. Joon-ho’s wins—having also won Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Film—are a major accomplishment and indicate both the need for, and the appreciation of, cinema that extends outside the whitewashed narrative. 

However, despite Parasite’s landmark win, the Oscars remain to be an institution that reflects the aged values of the voting members of the Academy. This year alone, #OscarsSoWhite and #OscarsSoSexist dominated social media feeds. Despite visionary work being done by women directors like Greta Gerwig (Little Women) and Alma Har’el (Honey Boy) and women of color actresses like Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers) and Lupita Nyong’o (Us), the Best Director category saw only male nominees, and only one woman of color—Cynthia Erivo-—was nominated for Best Actress. 

The Academy seems to be swimming in its own contradictions. While Hollywood’s collective Trump-era politics has certainly turned its head to the glaring problems of inclusion and diversity, it hasn’t done much to correct them head-on. Instead, like seen at last night’s awards show, the Oscars continuously mocks itself. Presenters and performers take the stage to poke fun at the cis-white-male thread that ties the nominees together. Last night, Chris Rock and Steve Martin joked about the lack of “vaginas” in the Best Director category and Utkarsh Ambudkar rapped about the whiteness of it all. Those are only two of the many instances of the Academy directing the attention to their manufactured “wokeness,” without actually doing the work to make any difference in the diversity of their nominees. 

The question is, how long can the Academy go on like this? In the past, the Academy has half-heartedly acknowledged its own insular problems by nominating (and awarding) large honors to movies that deserved them: Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight for example. But then of course Greenbook, which prevailed despite its problematic themes of white-saviorism, won for Best Picture last year over another foreign language film, Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma

Even Parasite, despite taking home top prizes, was not recognized for the individual talent of its remarkable cast, while other white actors and actresses like Scarlett Johansson were double nominated. This is surprising, especially considering that Bong Joon-ho has stated that Parasite is an “actor-led” film. Senior writer at Vulture, E. Alex Jung, has attributed this to cultural bias, writing, “only seeing Parasite as a technical/directorial achievement even though it is also an acting one is a bias rooted in the inability to recognize the humanity of Asian people.”

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As usual, only time will tell if the Academy decides to bring tangible change to the way they go about their nomination process. For now, at least we can see Bong Joon-ho’s extraordinary triumph getting the awards and recognition it deserves. 

Written by Lexi Anderson

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