South Korean Film Injects Diversity Back Into Oscars

bong joon ho

At an Oscars ceremony nearly devoid of acting nominees of color and lacking any women among the contenders for best director, it fell to an Asian filmmaker and his cast to bring diversity to the American film industry’s highest honors.

South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” took several of the top awards of the night, including best picture, best director, best international film and best original screenplay.

“Parasite” became the first foreign-language film to win best picture in the 92-year history of the Academy Awards.

Still, the spotty record of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in achieving greater racial diversity remained a through-line of the ceremony

Four years after the #OscarsSoWhite furor was supposed to have spurred Hollywood to become more inclusive, just one of the 20 contenders for best lead or supporting acting honors this year was a performer of color – Cynthia Erivo. She starred as anti-slavery freedom fighter Harriet Tubman in “Harriet.” She didn’t win.

“Cynthia did such a great job in ‘Harriet’ hiding black people that the academy got her to hide all the black nominees,” comedian Chris Rock joked in an opening monologue he shared with fellow funnyman Steve Martin.

“Think how much the Oscars have changed in the past 92 years,” Martin exclaimed. “Back in 1929, there were no black acting nominees.”

“And now in 2020, we got one!” Rock added in a not-so subtle punchline jab.

The all-male roster of best director nominees has likewise drawn criticism of the academy after a year in which women made up 21 percent among all directors, writers, producers and cinematographers on the 250 highest-grossing films.

And of the nine best-picture nominees at Sunday’s ceremony, only one of them – “Little Women” – was a film made by a woman about women. The absence of its director, Greta Gerwig, from the list of nominees for achievement in directing this year was widely seen as a glaring omission.

Rock and Martin picked up on that motif as well in the following exchange:

Rock: “So many great directors nominated this year.”

Martin: “I don’t know, because I thought there was something missing from the list this year.”

Rock: “What, vaginas?”

The observation was one of the big applause lines early in the ceremony.

The lack of diversity was addressed head-on again about midway through the three-hour-plus telecast by actor-musician Utkarsh Ambudkar, who appeared on stage to recount highlights from the first half of the ceremony in rap.

“I’m here to recap the show and MC for a bunch of nominees that don’t look like me,” he said.

Actor-singer Janelle Monae pointed to the diversity problem in the show’s opening musical dance number, singing: “It’s time to come alive … because the Oscars is so white!”

But for all the running commentary on a lack of diversity at this year’s Oscar proceedings, the show ended with the all-Korean cast of “Parasite” assembled on the Dolby Theatre stage accepting the best picture award.


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