On 20th February, at a rally in Colorado, the US president Donald Trump bashed the Academy Awards’ choice of the 2019 South Korean film Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-ho, as winner of Best Picture, asking ‘what the hell was that all about?’ Conflating the issue of American trade with South Korea with the quality of a film, Trump condemned the film winning in any category other than ‘best foreign movie’, admitting ‘was it good? I don’t know’.
Instead, Trump recommended a film he had actually watched: the 1939 film Gone with the Wind, which has received much criticism for racism and the whitewashing of slavery. Though not an attitude that anyone would find shocking coming from Trump, his view is systematic of a wider anglocentric attitude surrounding the film industry and culture more generally.
Parasite has been one of the most impactful and awarded films of the last year, unanimously winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, receiving four Academy Awards and becoming the first non-English language film to win Best Picture. Yet, prior to Parasite’s nominations, Bong Joon-ho himself described the Oscars as ‘very local’, expressing a disillusion with western awards’ alleged global prestige. Thankfully, in this case, the director’s scepticism in regards to the Academy was proved wrong with the class-critical thriller crossing the language barrier and challenging prejudices to be acknowledged by the film industry.
However, Bong Joon-ho, the cast and their outstandingly witty interpreter Sharon Choi, who is a director in her own right, have been subjected to the ignorance of western media throughout the award season. The cast were asked about the honour of receiving an American award, what makes it so special and why the South Korean director writing about the South Korean class system couldn’t have produced the film in English.
All of these questions assume a global anglocentrism that places American, and more generally Western, recognition at the top. They suggest that all non-English speaking and producing directors aspire towards achieving American success, minimising the significance of domestic accomplishments and making it just one step on the road towards greater global prominence. They presume that films should be produced for the ease of consumption of the largest markets so that Americans do not have to read subtitles like the rest of the world.
Parasite being accepted by anglophone institutions is a step in the right direction and, with luck, the media responses will follow suit. Hopefully the film will be protected from wholly unnecessary English adaptations or dubbing and that English-speaking audiences can catch up to the rest of the world and be able to appreciate and respect films regardless of their origin or language. As stated by Bong Joon-ho in his acceptance speech for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes: “once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of foreign language subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
Categories: Film & TV