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What best picture Oscar for ‘Parasite’ means for foreign films

Questions of diversity and inclusion among nominees still lingered at the Oscars on Sunday night -- but still, the Academy’s choice for the best picture of the year, “Parasite,” was a big deal. Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times joins Amna Nawaz to discuss the significance of that pick, the first non-English language film to receive the honor, for Asian Americans in the entertainment industry.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    On a night when a lot went as expected at the Oscars, questions of diversity and inclusion still lingered.

    But the Academy's choice for the best picture winner was a big deal.

    Here's a look now at the significance of that pick, part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas.

    History at last night's Oscars:

  • Jane Fonda:

    And the Oscar goes to "Parasite."

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    As the South Korean thriller "Parasite" became the first non-English-language film to win best picture.

  • Woman:

    We never imagined this to ever happen. We are so happy.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The film won four Oscars in total, including best screenplay and best international feature film.

  • Bong Joon-Ho (through translator):

    The category has a new name now from best foreign language to best international feature film. I'm so happy to be its first recipient under the new name.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Bong Joon-ho also took home best director, giving a nod to his fellow nominees.

  • Bong Joon-Ho:

    That quote was from our great Martin Scorsese.

    So…

    (LAUGHTER)

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Part satire, part drama, "Parasite" defies description.

    The story centers on a poor family that cons its way into a wealthy household. When class warfare threatens the bond between the two, violence ensues.

    The wins were celebrated in South Korea, including by President Moon Jae-in, who tweeted his gratitude to the filmmakers for — quote — "instilling pride and courage in our people as we come together to whether difficulties."

    "Parasite"'s success comes at a pivotal moment for the Oscars, five years after the Oscars so white protest, with the Academy still struggling to recognize diverse talent.

    For more on this, I'm joined by Justin Chang. He's a film critic for The Los Angeles Times. And he chairs the National Society of Film Critics.

    Justin, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    So, I read your column this morning. You clearly think the Academy got this one right. Tell me why. What is it about this movie that you think made sure it deserves this award?

  • Justin Chang:

    I do think they got it right.

    And "Parasite" was my favorite movie of last year. For me, it was the best, most thrilling film. And I think that it has — its victory has shattered one of the last remaining glass ceilings, not all of them, but one of them, which is, in its 92-year history, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has never given best picture to a non-English-language film, despite having nominated a few over the years.

    I believe "Parasite" is the 12th one to be nominated for best picture. And to win international feature film in the same night and director and screenplay is just remarkable.

    I think this is a movie — this is a movie that collapses divisions, not just in terms of class, but in terms of being an art film, as well as a genre film. It's a popular entertainment.

    Really the only thing holding back this movie from what we thought would be the Academy's embrace was the fact that it has subtitles and is in Korean, not English. It's a huge critical success, a huge commercial success. It was really the language.

    That was the only thing that would seem to be standing in the way of it, and leading many to think that, oh, they're not going to give it to "Parasite."

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, I should point out, of course, we should say this work is not representative of all Korean film, not representative of all Asian film, for sure, as well.

    But something that was noted last night was, for all the many awards that "Parasite" got as a movie, there were none for individual acting. And a lot of people were actually noting on Twitter and elsewhere that this has kind of become a pattern with some Asian-majority cast films.

    You had the same thing happened with "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," the same thing happened with "Slumdog Millionaire."

    Why do you think that happens?

  • Justin Chang:

    Yes, I wrote a piece about this in The Times on this matter and about extolling the greatness of the actors in "Parasite," both individually and collectively, actors like Song Kang-ho, Park So-dam, Jo Yeo-jeong, Lee Jeong-eun.

    I think it's the best ensemble of the year and in the best movie of the year.

    And I think it says something about the way the American film industry regards or disregards Asian actors. And there's something dehumanizing, I think, sometimes about the way they see Asian actors.

    We're — I say this as an Asian-American. We're exalted as, you know, great technicians, and director Bong Joon-ho's technical genius has rightly been acclaimed and recognized in his director win last night.

    But as far as being able to, it's sad to say, but tell Asian actors apart, let alone know their names, let alone recognize the individual greatness of their performances, I think that is — maybe that's the next step.

    And look, understandably, these actors have — are working place of disadvantage. Most of them are not very well known in the States. Song Kang-ho is a major movie star in South Korea, but even he has just a relatively limited following in the States compared to Brad Pitt.

    The Academy is a very heterogeneous institution. I think it's often at cross purposes with itself. And there's something both kind of disappointing about that, and also very moving and exciting about that, because they are trying to be many different things and do — and that's not easy, when you are the Academy.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Justin, just a few seconds left, but I got to ask you, what is the impact of a win like this? Does this mean more films with minority casts get made?

    Does this mean people are more aware that there are foreign films out there they should check out? What do you think — or how do you think this matters?

  • Justin Chang:

    I certainly hope it does accomplish some of those things.

    My — I think that it will at least encourage audiences to watch "Parasite," which many have not, and to watch more movies that are not in English. I think that's the bare minimum we can hope for. I don't expect that this is going to cause — open the floodgates and we're going to be seeing movies from China and Germany and Senegal winning best picture right and left.

    But I think it's at least eliminated the idea that this cannot happen. And that's a good thing.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Justin Chang of The Los Angeles Times, thanks so much for being with us.

  • Justin Chang:

    Thank you so much for having me.

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