By TAMARA OMER
Rewarding international films is necessary not only because of the representation it gives minorities but also because their narratives have such strong commentaries towards the western world. In order for art to continue moving the industry forward the need for global inclusion is necessary.
Just this year, the South Korean thriller “Parasite,” directed by Bong Joon Ho, was the first foreign language film ever to win an Academy Award for best picture. It was a historical moment for the Oscars, which has been running for 92 years, and particularly important considering what messages “Parasite” illustrates. “Parasite” is full of themes such as class struggle, exploitation and colonialism. It has a relevant narrative that is monumental to the platform, especially in Hollywood. It encourages reflection on how western media supports the class hierarchy by convincing people that fame and fortune is the passage to respect. The film could be viewed as a criticism to the culture of richness, and how those in financial power show naivety and are disconnected from the reality of those who struggle to make ends meet every day.
As important as the movie is, it could be argued that the academy does not have a responsibility to be inclusive of foreign artists since it takes place in the U.S, and there are other awards shows that are aired in different countries. However, it is also important to acknowledge the spread of the Oscars, and how far it goes beyond American viewers. According to Variety, after “Parasite” won best picture it earned an additional $12.7 million, pushing its global sales to over $200 million. Furthermore, in the U.S., “Parasite” earned an additional $8.8 million in sales, so there was a financial rise caused by the attention the film got following the Oscars.
Increased support for the film could lead to a stronger following of foreign films in general and provide more demand for global art in western media. Platforming international film also creates unity in the world of art; it proves that these narratives resonate with people despite the language barriers. As Bong Joon Ho said in his Golden Globes acceptance speech, interpreted by Sharon Choi, “Once you overcome the one-inch barrier of subtitles you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
This is significant because it shows that narratives from all over the world can hold weight at a global level; even if the viewer does not understand the dialogue. Additionally, the way in which audiences connect to cinema goes past dialogue within the plot. Images are universally impactful and understood; cinematography gives artists a chance to make their stories resonate with people of any background. The language barrier that could occur between a viewer and the movie they’re watching should not be an excuse to invalidate the beauty of the work.
Although this year the academy proved that they are able to recognize such a gravitational piece of work, there is a lot more to be done. According to ABC News, during most of the 2000s, the number of viewers for the Oscars would range from about 35 to 45 million viewers. However this year viewership has been at an all-time low, totaling 23.6 million viewers. This could be due to criticism over the last few years regarding a lack of diverse representation of artists. In 2016 the nomination bracket was so sparse of any minority, the tag #oscarsowhite was trending on social media.
There has been some progress– according to Vox, last April the academy changed the best foreign-language film title to the best international feature film. This is important because it encourages more inclusion in the industry and recognizes the word ‘foreign’ can read as a type of division towards international creators.
However, it does not discount the fact that it is also more complicated for international films to be nominated; there is a lengthy list of rules on the Oscars’ official website that international filmmakers must meet in order to be considered. Some of the rules include that each country could only elect one movie per year to be considered for nomination, and that “the submitting country must certify that creative control of the film was largely in the hands of citizens or residents of that country.” This could be an attempt to limit those who are submitting for the international category; the rules for the international category should be closer to those for American-made films.
It is true that minority populations within the film industry are receiving some recognition, however, there are inconsistencies. The academy has a responsibility to make sure that all people are being represented. Today, the creation of art is wider and more inclusive than ever, so the repression of artists of different ethnic backgrounds and world-views is unacceptable.