Parasite’s Oscar Success Is So Important: There is one simple truth that nobody wants to admit: the Oscars do matter. Perhaps not in the way that many might think, but they do matter in one very significant way: publicity.
Love them or hate them, the Academy Awards are the most talked-about event on the showbiz calendar and they generate a lot of conversation in film journalism, on social media and even on mainstream news. For many of the lesser-known nominees, a win on the night could make their entire career.
For this year’s Best Picture winner, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, this means more than perhaps any of the 91 others that came before it. Make no mistake: history was made on Sunday.
It’s important to note that Parasite‘s not the first international film to win Best Picture. Silent film The Artist, which took home the prize in 2012, was a French production, and the UK has had its fair share of glory in the past, with films such as Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech. Parasite is the first winner to not be in the English language and, considering the general public’s natural aversion to subtitles, this is a far greater achievement.
Over the past 92 years, 563 films have been nominated for Best Picture, and only 11 of them have not been in the English language. That’s about 1.9%. Isn’t it a little arrogant to truly believe that the best films of the last 91 years just happen to have all been in English?
The discussion around diversity at the Oscars is a continuous one, but these conversations rarely take into account the Academy’s near-exclusion of films in any other language. A Best Picture win for a foreign film is perhaps the biggest mountain to climb, and Parasite‘s just reached the summit.
Most mainstream audiences are reluctant when it comes to foreign films. Sadly, cries of ‘ergh, I hate subtitles, I don’t want to read when I’m watching a film…’ are all too common. The truth is that this isn’t the public’s fault. So, whose is it?
An article last week quoted someone claiming they didn’t think foreign films should be nominated in the same category as ‘regular films’. What does that make them? Irregular? This is where the problem lies: the industry hasn’t normalised them.
International films are kept out of most mainstream cinemas. They get very little financing or marketing and, at most ceremonies, are recognised in separate awards. Most audiences don’t hear about them until they’re inevitably remade by an American studio. For many reasons, these remakes fail to capture the same magic, leaving the viewer unimpressed and unwilling to check out the original, which they may very well have enjoyed.
For Parasite, Bong Joon-ho, and many other filmmakers from overseas, this win, and the publicity that it will generate, is hugely significant. It goes beyond Parasite’s winning a prestigious award. This is good for the entire industry.
A Best Picture win normally sees a significant bump in viewership for the film being awarded. It’s worth noting that Parasite‘s already a financial success before this. The buzz for the film has been ongoing since its Palme d’Or win at Cannes in the summer and, following its wide release in October, it is now approaching $40 million at the US box office alone. This might seem like a small figure compared to some of Hollywood’s biggest hits but, for a subtitled film with a limited release, it’s extremely impressive. In fact, Parasite is already one of the most successful non-English films in US history.
That said, when it comes to the boost an Oscar win can provide, the numbers speak for themselves…
On Monday 10th February, the day after the Oscars, Parasite‘s grossed around $501,000, almost tripling the $159,000 it grossed the previous Monday. On Sunday 9th, it grossed $433,000, thereby increasing by 15.7% the day after winning Best Picture. This is despite the fact that an average Monday will see a drop of at least 70% from the day before, and is the biggest post-win increase since The King’s Speech in 2011.
For contrast, 1917 grossed around $800,000 the day after the Oscars, a drop from the day before, in a weekend that saw it gross over $9 million. It’s also worth noting that Parasite‘s only showing in 1060 US cinemas, compared to the 3548 showing 1917. As a result of its success, Parasite is now expected to expand to 1800 cinemas this weekend; the most of its theatrical run so far.
Parasite’s already out-grossed Moonlight. It’s not far behind Spotlight or Birdman, and none of these films had the same perceived disadvantage of subtitles. Let’s not forget that these numbers are only for the US. Worldwide, the film has already grossed over $160 million, and only received a wide release in the UK last week.
(My local cinema wasn’t showing the film at all last weekend but, as a result of this win, will be holding at least 3 showings a day next week).
Both Amazon and iTunes also listed the film as their #1 movie rental the day after the awards. This is virtually unheard of for a subtitled film.
Many people are saying online that they’ll see the film now that it’s won Best Picture, many of whom claim to have never even heard of it as recently as a week ago.
When looking at these numbers, you’d find it difficult telling Bong Joon-ho that the Oscars don’t matter. The film is getting a wider release now than before, and is attracting people who previously weren’t even aware that it existed, and who likely don’t watch subtitled films all that often.
The Oscars are important because they have the potential to give small yet brilliant films the time and recognition that they never received before. Joker has already made over $1 billion. 1917 is doing exceptionally well and is proving to be a much beloved film. A Best Picture win doesn’t make or break movies like Joker, 1917 or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; films that already have an audience. For films like Parasite, this is invaluable publicity. The fact that it also happens to be one of the year’s finest films is just a bonus.
The Academy also has a history of playing it safe, often awarding the least controversial films as opposed to the very best, and ignoring films that are perhaps braver and more unique. Parasite is an unpredictable, bold, daring, original and sometimes violent film, and is perhaps as far removed from ‘Oscar Bait’ as one could imagine. This isn’t just a win for subtitled films. It’s a win for any filmmaker with new ideas in an industry that usually ignores them.
This win could lead to more people checking out Parasite who, if they enjoy it, might be inclined to seek out other subtitled or independent films. If the numbers prove this, it will encourage more risk-taking in a mainstream industry that’s already terrified of originality.
This is beneficial for cinema as a whole; both for those who make it, and those who consume it. Everybody wins.
It has become apparent in recent weeks that some people don’t think foreign films should be eligible for Best Picture. YouTuber Robert Storms went viral this week after he expressed anger that the award had not gone to an American film. Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle recently wrote that allowing foreign films to compete for both Best Picture and Best International Feature Film gives them ‘an advantage over domestic films in that they can win twice, but an English-language film can only win once.’
When fully aware of the fact that Parasite is the only non-English film to win Best Picture in 92 years, it’s funny to think that anybody could even attempt to make a convincing argument for a supposed advantage. Also, this discontent has been strangely silent in the past when animated films have been nominated for Best Picture as well as Best Animated Feature Film. Would Storms or LaSalle have been as angry if Toy Story 3 and Up had won both prizes?
It’s also worth noting that foreign films don’t even have the potential to win two awards anyway, seeing as the Best International Feature Film prize goes to the country of its origin. The filmmakers themselves can still only take home Best Picture, so if you want to award them, that really is the only way to properly do that.
If anything, the existence of the Best International Feature Film places foreign productions at a disadvantage. There is less pressure to recognise them in the Best Picture category when confident they’ll also be taking home another prize. It’s almost become a token award. The best solution would be to get rid of it all together, forcing voters to consider these films for Best Picture if they wish to recognise them at all.
Storms seems particularly furious that the film has won what he considers to be an American award. Setting aside the aforementioned fact that Parasite isn’t even the first international production to win, this idea that the award is only for American films is inherently false.
Plenty of non-British films have won Best Film at the BAFTAs. Plenty of non-French films have won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, including Parasite.
A film does not need to be American to win Best Picture; it simply needs to have been released in American theatres. It’s an award for the best films released in the states that year. That is all.
The Academy is an international body. It has never been exclusively American. It consists of 8000 members, almost 20% of whom are international. If international filmmakers are allowed to vote, doesn’t it make sense that they should also be able to win?
The truth is that Storms and LaSalle would’ve probably been fine if Toy Story 3 had won Best Picture, just as they have been fine with British films winning in the past. The issue here isn’t about American films not winning. It’s about films in a different language, and the only reason the general public has any issues with subtitled films to begin with is solely down to the industry’s aforementioned exclusion of them. This is exactly the problem that Parasite’s win can help to counteract. This can only be a good thing. Cinema is a global art form and it should be treated as such.
Most people who say ‘films aren’t as good as they used to be’ likely don’t watch many films from anywhere but the UK or the USA. The idea that there aren’t any good films anymore is simply not true, and less people would believe it if they were willing to spread their wings a little. There are great films being made every single day if you’re prepared to look for them. As Bong Joon-ho said himself at the Golden Globes: ‘Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.’
Sunday’s ceremony was special. Jane Fonda announced Parasite as the winner to the most euphoric response from an Oscars audience in years. It was a massive surprise, but a happy and welcome one. As Anne Thompson from Indiewire puts it: ‘I’ve attended many Oscars, and while Moonlight comes close as an independent film that the Hollywood community rallied behind and pushed for the win, I’ve never seen the rousing energy, the celebration, the cheering and stamping and yelling that Parasite inspired. Everyone, it seemed, even rival studios, wanted Bong Joon-ho to win.’
Few were more shocked than the man himself who, upon winning his first award of the night, was caught staring and smiling at it with glee. When the cast and crew took to the stage for the Best Picture win, they all passed the awards along, looking at them in awe.
These are people who don’t get to do this every year. They just seemed happy to be there; to even be a part of it at all. How refreshing it was to step outside of the Hollywood elite; away from the familiar faces who attend the Oscars nearly every year, either as a nominee or a presenter. How wonderful it was to see people genuinely moved by the mere mention of their own name, and spellbound by the site of that world-famous statuette.
Politicians in South Korea are now even proposing a statue of Bong Joon-ho, a museum dedicated to him and his body of work (which includes fantastic films like Okja, Snowpiercer and Mother) and are even suggesting roads be named after him.
Sir Sam Mendes was winning Oscars 20 years ago. He’s been here before and he’ll likely have plenty of chances again, much like Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and many others. For Bong Joon-ho, this may just be it, and he knows it. That’s what made it so special.
In the words of Justin Chang, film critic for the LA times: ‘Parasite’s dealt a much-needed slap to the American film industry’s narcissism, its long-standing love affair with itself, its own product and its own image. It has startled the Academy into recognising that no country’s cinema has a monopoly on greatness.’
This is an enthusiasm that has been felt throughout the industry. Director Ava DuVernay said: ‘The world is big and beautiful, and films from everywhere deserve to be on that stage winning the Academy’s highest honour. This is wonderful and right.’
Owen Gleiberman, film critic for Variety, said: ‘On Oscars night, Hollywood sent out a message to the world about the kind of movie that it’s chosen to represent the industry, and in honouring a film that wasn’t even made within the industry, it was saying: we can look to lights from outside.’
Perhaps the most wonderful thing about Parasite’s win isn’t even the significance of it at all, but rather the fact that a film universally agreed to be among the very best cinema had to offer last year actually walked away with the top prize. This isn’t as common as it should be, but this year it happened. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the industry who didn’t think Parasite was a worthy winner.
Director James Gunn said: ‘Parasite’s the first film I remember winning that most cinema-loving folks would generally agree is truly the best film of the year. It’s the first time my favourite film has won since Unforgiven, and I for one am really happy that more people will go and see it now.’
Take Gunn’s advice. Go and see Parasite. Give the film your time. It deserves it. If you’re lucky, you might even enjoy it.
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