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Movie Review: The Significance Of 'Parasite' Win

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Film critic Justin Chang wrote in the LA Times, “It’s just the Oscars—but my God, it matters that Parasite won best picture.” Chang is right about pretty much everything he says in his piece, but we should probably acknowledge that first part. Yes, it is just the Oscars, and it is possible to overstate the importance of this. When’s the last time you really heard anyone talk about The King’s Speech, The Artist, Argo, or Birdman, all of which won best picture in the last decade? We movie lovers hate to admit it, but the Oscars have a limited reach.

But you’re no doubt aware Parasite is not like those other movies. It’s the first movie in a foreign language to win best picture in the Oscars’ 92 ceremonies. And while it would still be a huge deal if a movie from, say, Germany or Sweden had won, this one is from South Korea—it’s filled entirely with nonwhite actors and, on the surface, at least, is very specific to South Korea. Its themes are universal, for sure, but its location and particular cultural quirks are not.

This matters. It matters that, as Justin Chang also says, this is a slap to the American film industry’s narcissism—and to take his words a step further, to the narcissism of many American filmgoers. There’s an entire world of truly magnificent filmmaking: As Parasite director Bong Joon Ho said at the Golden Globes, “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

This win won’t open floodgates. There’s far too much still to do to gain more representation, domestically and internationally—only one out of 20 acting nominees this year wasn’t white. We’ve still only ever had five women nominated for director. But in terms of opening the broader movie audience’s eyes to what’s really out there, a wall has been breached, and it does matter.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.