Someone hiding in a basement right now is shouting, very somberly, respect. And there can be no other word other than respect crossing the minds of millions after Bong Joon-ho and the cast and crew of Parasite, made Oscar history on Sunday night by accepting the Best Picture award. It is the first time a foreign language film has ever achieved this honor.
Going into the night, there was a strong and vocal support for Parasite that extended from critics and fans—like ourselves which listed the Bong movie as both the best of 2019 and the best of the decade—but precedence and history ran against the picture. Even after picking up the coveted Best Original Screenplay from the Writers Guild, the fact remains that no foreign language film has ever won Best Picture in its 92 years—only five have even been nominated for the prize since 2000.
Nonetheless, Parasite persevered and dominated in many of the categories it was nominated for throughout the night, winning all but two of the six categories it competed in. Among its other wins are the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, the Best International Film Oscar (the first year it was renamed from the “Best Foreign Language Film”), and Best Director. Indeed, Bong appeared genuinely astonished when he picked up the Best Director prize over the odds-on favorite, Sam Mendes, director of 1917.
“After winning Best International Feature, I thought I was done for the day and ready to relax,” Bong had translated before the Academy. And yet, even then he was not done. He even had to deny the entire Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when the Kodak Theatre stood on their feet and chanted “Bong,” requesting he take the mic. Instead he left it to his impressive and impressed producers to accept the award.
Parasite winning Best Picture is genuinely history being made. With no foreign language film having ever achieved the coup—nor any film since Slumdog Millionaire in 2009 winning without acting nominations—the odds were against the film about class, income inequality, and the agonies of capitalism breaking down what should ostensibly be a symbiotic relationship.
It is also a reminder that the Academy is changing. Despite hand-wringing and perpetual wall-to-wall complaining on Twitter and social media, the Academy has transformed a tremendous amount in the 21st century, particularly in recent years. Parasite’s triumvirate of wins in Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay is indicative of this.
But so is Joaquin Phoenix taking home the Best Actor Oscar for Joker. While Heath Ledger won a posthumous Best Supporting Actor for the same role 11 years ago, the film he won it for, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, was notably snubbed from even competing in Best Picture or Best Director. Conversely, Joker was the most nominated film of the night, and then picked up groundbreaking Oscars for the superhero movie genre: Best Actor and Best Original Score.
The Academy continues to change and evolve in the 21st century, and on nights like this one, that paradigm shift is a refreshing. Vital, even.