In the Spotlight: Breaking Cultural Stereotypes and Prejudices

FEU Advocate
February 14, 2021 08:16

By Ma. Emilia Nicole D. Bertulfo and James Pascua

Racial diversity has been a ‘long overdue’ problem in the film industry. With the Oscars’ noticeable preference for Caucasian awardees, the lack of diversity for people of color has definitely raised eyebrows—questioning the dominance of the non-foreign films in the industry. In fact, some were even questioning the authenticity and credibility of its voting structure, prompting the Oscars to conduct further actions to promote inclusivity.

A year ago, on the ninth of February 2020, the success of the South Korean movie 'Parasite' made history by winning best picture and becoming the first non-English language film to take such prestige, setting the tone for the industry to hope for a more diverse Oscars. 

To commemorate the one-year anniversary of its historic triumph, let us take a look back on memory lane and reminisce how Bong Joon-ho’s South Korean satire overcame the “one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles” and ultimately created ripples of change in the landscape of film industry.

A Diversified Oscars in the Making

In 2016 of January, after announcing the nominees for the 88th Academy Awards, a loud uproar from the film industry erupted, criticizing Hollywood for its failure to expand its representation on its nominees with actors and filmmakers of color.

The controversial '#OscarsSoWhite' hashtag created in 2015 by managing editor and activist April Reign took social media by storm sparking a conversation among fans and gaining its steam to attract renowned celebrities on the lack of inclusion in the film landscape.

In an interview with FEU Advocate, Aly Valentino, a second year Political Science student in Far Eastern University (FEU), thinks that this controversy limits the field of entertainment in one category to be represented by Western nominees. She further feels that the language of these films is universal, that one does not need subtitles to understand its meaning because films in its most essential form is an artistic expression and appreciation.

Since then, the Academy underwent a transformative restructuring after its notorious back-to-back years of all-white acting nominees in 2015 and 2016. Additionally, there also have been incremental changes in Hollywood which started off under the former Academy President Cheryl Isaacs in 2013 who promised to ensure that the stories of women and people of color will be represented.

To diversify its representation, the Academy even imposed a change in its voting structure by considering members who have not been active in the industry for more than a decade to be ineligible to vote for nominees of the show.

Ms. Patricia Ramo, an arts appreciation professor in FEU, believes there is a need for the Academy body to show transparency in the process of giving these awards. She furthered, “it is rather difficult to project a certain expectation as an outsider, a spectator, towards an award-giving body to have a paradigm shift.”

But, the reality is, the industry’s goal is far from its full fruition. If the Academy truly wants to embrace an inclusive and accepting film industry, it is high-time to detach themselves from the traditional network of assuming that the usual handful of bankable white stars are the only ones who can exclusively sell a film with millions of dollars.

The Oscars are seen as the pinnacle of the film industry, however until today’s society is no longer lauding “firsts” after a 90-year Academy history and until we can no longer count on our fingers the nominations from overlooked segments of society, #OscarsSoWhite is and will remain a topic of relevance. The struggle to ensure inclusivity continues.

‘One-Inch-Tall Barriers’

The general audience has been used to awards being given to films that are dominated by Caucasians. Historically, the Oscars began awarding films in 1929, but there has not been an African-American awardee until the major breakthrough of Hattie McDaniel in 1940.

Majority of English speaking people are complaining that they have to read subtitles to understand the movie. However, even with all the backlash, the victory of “Parasite” is widely celebrated by people of color. The continuous support given to revolutionary films such as this can be the major turning point towards the increase in representation of non-English films.

The world’s public moviegoers are becoming more diverse. With this, it is imperative that its entertainment community reflect its changing demographics.

Now more than ever, the audiences are attuned not only to the plotlines and twists, but also to the faces portrayed on-screen whose voices are not silenced but heard and whose stories are not diminished but embodied.

Boasting world-class cinematography and a promising storyline that shows representation and visibility, one can only hope for a better platform for the people of color to show high competence—if not dominance—in the film industry.

 Global Resonance

Even before the momentous win of Parasite under the directorship of Bong Joon Ho, the film has already earned its respect and accomplishments; some say that it did not need an Oscar.

On its own, the film has resonated across millions of people with various beliefs and backgrounds and garnered a worldwide buzz and critical acclaim. It has captured the hearts of many with a most uniquely Korean story as the movie gives light to the polarization and metaphor for capitalist societies with deepening rich-poor gap.

For many decades, Oscar awards were geared at selecting conservative choices because of the longstanding dominance in Hollywood of white filmmakers focusing on stories about white people. The goal for inclusion remains an elusive reality and has not been reflected in the show’s acting nominees.

However, Parasite’s runaway success of winning Best Original Screenplay, Best International Film, Best Director, and Best Picture marks a pivotal turning point for foreign languages films – a sign that the Academy is finally willing to recognize the world of cinema beyond the realm of Hollywood.

More than the accolade itself, the historic win shows increased representation, and such climate comes as a sign that the Academy might be finally—after many years—be willing to acknowledge both English and non-English films.

Parasite’s revolutionary recognition, in the continuous pursuit for global representation, is a success that champions diversity and advocates inclusivity. One could only hope for Parasite, even many years from now, not to be just a momentary bout of glory but the beginning of a new global era guaranteeing lasting change.

For one night, we have all witnessed how Parasite rewrote the 92-year history of Oscars and for once Hollywood had celebrated another part of the world. To many people, the Oscars may not necessarily be an international film festival as it is perceived to be very local. 

However, the night Parasite won, the Oscars were local no more. Its runaway success truly marked a pivotal turning point for foreign films and the once-unthinkable recognition has finally been realized.

(Illustration by Mary Vel Custodio/FEU Advocate)