11 February 2020The South Korean film Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-ho, won four major awards at the 2020 Academy Awards Sunday night in Los Angeles. It earned both the best picture and best international feature film awards, an unprecedented event, and Bong won the prizes for best director and best original screenplay.
Sam Mendes’ 1917 earned three awards (including veteran Roger Deakins for best cinematography), while Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari and Todd Phillips’ Joker each won two. Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) and Renee Zellweger (Rupert Goold’s Judy) collected the best actor and best actress awards, with Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood) and Laura Dern (Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story) winning in the best supporting actor and actress categories.
Parasite deserved to win the most serious awards. It was markedly superior to every other film up for consideration. Bong’s effort is a complex, troubling work about the social, economic and psychological disaster represented by the vast gap between rich and poor. Two families, the Kims and the Parks, who ordinarily live at the opposite ends of society, are suddenly brought into close proximity, with terrible consequences. The climactic scene culminates in an eruption of class anger.
As we noted in our original review, South Korea is one of the most socially unequal societies on the planet. Bong’s film spells out, in a thoughtful and logical manner, the inevitable results of such a division: the impoverished will do almost anything to emerge from their nightmarish conditions, subsisting literally in the underworld. The pampered rich, living in a cocoon, are utterly unprepared for the envy, anger and violence their dominance and arrogance provokes.
Bong told the Guardian recently that “Korea, on the surface, seems like a very rich and glamorous country now, with K-pop, high-speed internet and IT technology … but the relative wealth between rich and poor is widening. The younger generation, in particular, feels a lot of despair.”
The director, in the film’s production notes, pointed to the fact that “in this sad world humane relationships … cannot hold.” Parasite, he explains, depicts “ordinary people” who descend into an “unavoidable” collision. The film is “a comedy without clowns, a tragedy without villains.”
Bong told an interviewer last year, “I think all creators, all artists, and even just everyone, we are always interested in class, 24/7, I think it would actually be strange if we’re not. … I think we all have very sensitive antennae to class, in general.” Unfortunately, as the vast majority of films nominated for Academy Awards this year indicates, this is not the case. The attention certainly of most American filmmakers is firmly on themselves and their ethnic, gender and sexual identities.
It is not clear that Bong, who describes his background and present circumstances as thoroughly middle class, is particularly left-wing in his thinking. He may merely be more observant and honest than most in the film world. (His lack of clarity found expression Sunday night in his friendly comments—to the extent they were not merely polite or diplomatic—directed toward fellow best director nominees Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, by whom he claimed to have been inspired. In fact, Parasite is opposed in every significant way to the murky, misanthropic efforts of Scorsese and Tarantino.) Bong has been paying attention in his films to developments in South Korean society for two decades, with such works as Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000), Memories of Murder (2003), Mother (2009), Snowpiercer (2013) and Okja (2017).
And those efforts Sunday night were considerable. The organizers of the Awards ceremony were stung and disappointed by the outcome of the nominating process, which resulted in only one black performer nominated for an acting award (Cynthia Erivo in Harriet) and no female directors. The last weeks have been dominated by the subsequent media “furor.”
In our view, American filmmaking is truly deficient at this point in an objectively rooted social and moral compass, oriented to the problem of social inequality and class, as well as the great threats confronting the population, authoritarian rule and war. The filmmaker who is oblivious to these questions, whatever his or her gender, race or orientation, will have little of value to say to an audience.
After all, the first female director on whom the Academy bestowed—with great fanfare and much self-congratulation—its best director prize, in 2012, was Kathryn Bigelow, for the thoroughly falsified, CIA-sponsored account of the death of Osama bin-Laden, Zero Dark Thirty.
This year, in response to the angry response to the nominations and the resulting pressures, the organizers of the Awards event did everything within their power to inject race and gender politics into their program Sunday night, to an obvious extent. Desperately over-compensating for their failure to nominate the “proper” number of “nonwhite” and “nonmale” personalities, the Academy made certain that there would be no such complaints when it came to the presenters, singers, comics and musicians, and their various comments about female or black “representation.”
This sort of campaign does not address the legitimate, democratic question of the cultural education and involvement of vast numbers of young people, of all colors and genders, who are excluded from participating in the film, television and music industry because of their social background and economic conditions. What’s involved in the Academy’s “diversity” program is the conformist acceptance of the cultural status quo and the mere redistribution of a portion of the existing positions and wealth to African American, female and gay individuals, already affluent in many cases.
This appeals only to a relatively thin layer of the population. No doubt various factors account for the continuing decline of the Academy Awards’ television audience, which reached its lowest level in history Sunday night, 23.6 million people, but the self-involved, often self-pitying emphasis on race and gender is not widely and popularly appealing.
For example, this moment, described by ABC News, was simply grating: “[Actresses] Sigourney Weaver, Gal Gadot and Brie Larson joined together on stage to introduce a groundbreaking performance of this year’s nominated best original scores.
“‘We want to celebrate the first time in the 92-[year] history of the Academy Awards—a female conductor will be leading the orchestra for this performance,’ Weaver said.
“With Gadot and Larson by her side, Weaver said, ‘all women are superheroes.’”
Cynically, the Times ad concluded with this title: “The truth can change how we see the world. The truth is worth it.”
Democratic Party politics dominate the Hollywood film world. In a reference to the recently concluded impeachment trial of Donald Trump, Brad Pitt, accepting his award for best supporting actor (for Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood), quipped, “They told me I only had 45 seconds, and that’s 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week.” Bolton, of course, is the extreme reactionary and warmonger with whom the Democrats formed a de facto alliance after his claims about Trump and Ukraine in an upcoming book were leaked to the media.
The success of Parasite at the Academy Awards was generally praised by the American media. But not everyone was happy. Of course, an avowedly right-wing columnist last week headlined his comment, “Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Parasite’ Is Overrated, Implausible, Class-Struggle Nonsense.”
Aside from such reactionaries, however, a few other nervous voices were raised. Critic Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post , in particular, has made it known that the prominence of Parasite was not pleasing to her. Hornaday’s tack was to treat Parasite as though it were simply a variation on the Tarantino-style cinema of gratuitous violence and avoid its social content. “The techniques and tropes Bong repurposes so adroitly in Parasite ,” she wrote, resorting to feminist jargon, “make the film feel both original and oddly familiar, the product of the male gaze that still holds sway in Hollywood.”
Speaking of the Awards ceremony, Hornaday asserted that “clips from the best picture nominees played out like so many boys-with-their-toys wish-fulfillment fantasies, complete with swagger, cars that go vroom and women who are either silenced or virtually absent.” How could Greta Gerwig’s Little Womencompete “against so many films that mythologized Big Men?” Lumping in Parasite with the confused and even disoriented Joker, the Post critic described the two films as “derivative and insular, a self-referential grab bag of ‘cool’ visual style—often involving bloody violence—in service to narratives that were either flimsy or just plain shallow.”
The Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, who was in the Academy Awards audience in Los Angeles the other night. He too might well agree that the unsettling ideas propelling Parasite are “either flimsy or just plain shallow.”
^5000The mainstream imperialist media lie CONSTANTLY. Literally 24/7. And it's getting worse.
All of them do it: radio, tv, the newspapers, the movies. The internet. No exceptions.
The corporate Big Lie is pervasive and totalitarian. CBS does it. NBC does it. ABC does it.
CNN does it. FOX does it. NPR does it. And of course the NYTimes and WaPo do it.
Thousands of "diverse" voices telling you the same lies. Enough to convince anyone.
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