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And the Oscar goes to…

Parasite winning the Academy Award for Best Picture is an achievement for more reasons than one

“WHEN I was young and studying cinema, there was a saying that I carved deep into my heart, which is that ‘the most personal is the most creative’. That quote is from our great Martin Scorsese. When I was in school, I studied Martin Scorsese’s films. Just to be nominated was a huge honour. I never thought I would win.”

This was what South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho had to say while accepting his Oscar for Best Direction (for Parasite). And ironically, Scorsese was also nominated for his film The Irishman. The veteran filmmaker acknowledged Joon Ho’s appreciation with a smile. And this probably made the world yet again believe that dreams do come true.

This year, like every other, the Academy Awards had its defining moments – for which it will be remembered by the world for the years to come. Let’s take a look at them:

GLOBAL EMBRACE

The world witnessed history unfolding as the much-appreciated South Korean film by Bong Joon Ho – Parasite – won the Best Picture Award. The film, which is based on class division in the society, is the first time a foreign language film bagged the Academy Award in this category.

Finally, the Academy has given its long-awaited stamp of approval to films made outside the American studio system. Also, Parasite’s victory is undoubtedly a win for the foreign language films which were struggling to achieve such an honour.

Till now, only 11 films — considered ‘foreign language’ — were nominated for the best picture Award in the Oscars. Last year, Mexican film Roma by Afonso Cuaron created quite a stir at the Oscars, and it was anticipated it might win the Best Picture Award. Unfortunately, it did not. But, many are of the view that Roma paved the way for Bong Joon Ho’s film to achieve what it could not, leading to the end of a 91-year-old drought.

“No matter how you feel about award shows or the politics behind them, the platform of the Academy Awards is tremendous and a victory there would create a rainstorm that would cause many seeds to grow, not only for Asian cinema but for under-represented voices of every nation,” actor Lewis Tan, who stars in the upcoming film Mortal Kombat from Simon McQuoid and Warner Bros, told CNN in an interview.

In 2017, Moonlight bagged the Oscars for Best Picture. The win was hailed as an achievement (putting an end to the #OscarsSoWhite debate) – as it was the first film with an all-Black cast, depicting racism, to do so. Moreover, that year also saw the most number of Black winners – including Mahershala Ali, Viola Davis, and Barry Jenkins.

Similarly, Parasite’s win is believed to be an achievement for Asian cinema. Also, it is a victory for so-called foreign language films. This year a debate sparked off when the Best Foreign Language film section’s name was changed to Best International Feature Film.

It was believed that other than the name of that category, not much changed when it came to promoting global cinema. Many film lovers and critics are of the view that there shouldn’t be a foreign language film award at all. Best picture is best picture, period. And finally, Parasite’s win has proven it…without a doubt.

WORDS OF WORTH

Joaquin Phoenix was awarded the Best Actor Award for Joker and his acceptance speech was one of the important highlights of this year’s Academy Awards. It was the first time the Oscar was awarded for the same character once again. The character ‘Joker’ played by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knights got him an Oscar in the Best Supporting actor category in 2009.

He started his speech with an opening remark, “I am full of so much gratitude now. I do not feel elevated above any of my fellow nominees or anyone in this room, because we share the same love – that’s the love of film. And this form of expression has given me the most extraordinary life. I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

Phoenix highlighted the fact that the work of art is an opportunity to voice for the voiceless. He pointed out the commonality of the cause that the world is fighting, he said, “I think at times we feel or are made to feel that we champion different causes. But for me, I see commonality. I think, whether we’re talking about gender inequality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against injustice. We’re talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender, one species, has the right to dominate, use and control another with impunity.”

Phoenix mentioned our disconnection with the natural world due to our egocentric disposition. “We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable. Then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf and we put it in our coffee and our cereal.”

Crediting the human ability to cooperate and empathise, he ended his speech by saying, “I have been a scoundrel all my life, I’ve been selfish. I’ve been cruel at times, hard to work with, and I’m grateful that so many of you in this room have given me a second chance. I think that’s when we’re at our best: when we support each other. Not when we cancel each other out for our past mistakes, but when we help each other to grow. When we educate each other; when we guide each other to redemption. When he was 17, my brother [River] wrote this lyric. He said: “run to the rescue with love and peace will follow.”

GENDER BENDER

Women’s representation has always been an issue at the Oscar Awards. This year too, the representation of women in non-gendered categories was disappointing, despite the fact that a lot of women did some great work.

The one important highlight therefore, was Natalie Portman’s outfit for the Awards night. On close inspection, the lining of the Dior cape that she was wearing revealed names of eight women directors of some of the critically acclaimed 2019 films – unfortunately none of whom were nominated for the best direction category.

Thus, winning an award in the non-gendered category remains a distant dream for a woman artist. Between 1988 to 2002, no women got even a single nomination, let alone winning the award. That drought ended when Fran Wales and Phillippa Boyens were nominated, and they won the Academy Award for their adapted screenplay of “The Lords of the Rings: The Return of the King” in 2002.

The last nomination a woman got in the non-gender category was Vanessa Taylor, in 2017. She was nominated for the best screenplay, but could not win. This year, the list for Best Direction, which consisted of Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”), Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”), Bong Joon-Ho (“Parasite”), Sam Mendes (“1917”) and Todd Phillips (“Joker”), the omission of writer-director Greta Gerwig’s name (“Little Women”) came as a surprising to many.

Since the inception of the Oscars, women got nominations in the non-gendered category only around 20 times. In the 92 years of the Award’s history, only once a woman won the best director – Kathryn Bingelow for “The Hurt Locker” in 2008. And so far, only five received nominations in the Best Direction category.

The industry has always been tough for women, but they have made a space for themselves. And have time and again fought for a safer work space through various movements like #Metoo and Times Up. And hopefully their talent will be recognised more often, without them having to fight for it!