A Power Move from The Farewell and Parasite: An Awards Season Recap
Asian representation and the United States media are not in a harmonious relationship. Historically, Asian actors have always been given the stereotypical roles of doctors, engineers, martial arts masters or exotic objects in film or television. That relationship took a turning point when “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018) came and paved the way for more meaningful Hollywood depictions of Asians. But, the real moment of powerful Asian media capacity was last weekend, with the success of “The Farewell” (2019) and “Parasite” (2019) at the 2020 Academy Awards (also called the Oscars) and other major award shows.
Starting on Saturday, “The Farewell” defeated “A Hidden Life,” “Clemency,” “Marriage Story” and “Uncut Gems” to earn the Best Feature trophy at the 35th Film Independent Spirit Awards. This recognition was well-deserved, given how many initial rejections director Lulu Wang had to go through to make the film happen. Wang’s last shot was the studio A24, and after a $6 million deal with the indie production house, “The Farewell” entered the awards season.
“The Farewell” is based on Wang’s own story of navigating Chinese traditions and American ideals through a seemingly common topic: revealing a family member’s terminal illness. Ever since its release, the movie has been critically acclaimed and praised by global movie-goers, and has leveraged the playing field for its actors, including Awkwafina (Billi) and Zhao Shuzhen (Nai Nai). Awkwafina became the first Asian woman to win a Golden Globe for this role, and Zhao Shuzhen also won Best Supporting Actress at the Spirit Awards.
Saying farewell to a year-long press tour by winning a prestigious award was a historical moment for Wang and the crew. Wang gave kudos to A24 for its relentless efforts to help indie filmmakers. She also advocated for women moviemakers, saying “what women need is just the job. Just give them the frickin’ job!”
The success of “Parasite” is a miracle. This Korean dystopian film won four awards at the 92nd Oscars, including the two most important categories of Best Picture and Best Director, beating traditional Hollywood giants like Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, along with Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay. The win for Best Picture was the first time a non-English speaking film or foreign film had ever won the most coveted Academy Award. Director Bong Joon Ho’s reaction to winning was, “I will drink until next morning,” which has since generated a wave of fandom for this funny and relatable man.
“Parasite” tells the story of how the poor and the rich co-exist in contemporary Korean society. Bong is famous for his social commentary in his films, most recently with “Okja” (2017) – a Netflix original about a global corporation’s impact on worldwide citizens. Similar to his filmmaking style, Bong does not hold back in his attitude. When asked why no Korean film has ever been nominated for an Oscar for the past 20 years, he said “It’s a little strange, but it’s not a big deal. The Oscars are not an international film festival. They’re very local.”
Indeed, the Oscars are still very local. The most visible evidence was when “The Farewell” was snubbed from all of the nominations, despite being recognized by other awards. After the ceremony ended, Bong shouted out “The Farewell,” saying how much he loved the movie and urging critics to disregard the national borders and focus on the beauty of cinema instead. “Me and Lulu Wang we both make movies, it’s all the same,” Bong concluded.
The two Asian-driven movies have come together strongly in this award season to inspire fellow Asian filmmakers in particular, and filmmakers of color in general. The two films have shown the Academy and Hollywood that Asians are not a monolith, that our stories are complex and diverse. Whether it’s told in a foreign language or in English, Asian movies deserve to be seen wholeheartedly, not just as stereotypes and caricatures.
Sources: Vulture, Imdb