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‘Parasite’ and Bong Joon Ho win big at the Oscars

February 10, 2020, 7:56 PM UTC

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Most of the diversity at the 2020 Academy Awards in Hollywood occurred during last night’s on-stage performances. That said, there were still some breakthrough moments.

The always resplendent Janelle Monae opened the show with a musical tribute to the mostly white, mostly male nominees. She began with a nod to Mister Rogers on a recreated version of his show’s iconic set, even sharing a moment with Tom Hanks, who recently portrayed Fred Rogers in the biopic, Won’t You Be My Neighbor. Pose’s Billy Porter created a mood by singing Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing,” and then joined Monae in an adapted-for-the-Oscars version of her 2009 song “Come Alive.”

Monae was surrounded by dancers who were dressed as the nominees—so many Jokers1917 soldiers, and Little Women—but also by characters from films that had been overlooked. Dancers dressed up in Queen & Slim, Us, and Dolomite Is My Name costumes were the not-so-subtle reminders that plenty of worthy work had been left on the sidelines this year.

“Tonight we celebrate the art of storytelling,” said Monae in her introduction. “The misfits, the outcasts, the misunderstood, those voices long deprived. Be loud, be seen, be lit, be heard, because tonight we come alive!”

But only some of them, get it?

As I thought about it later, greenlighting that number—and the similar jibes then yet to come—felt like a cynical wink from the Academy, a performative concession to a problem not solved. The obligatory diversity panel at every conference. The blackeyed peas hot dish in corporate cafeterias during Black History Month. The retention issue that gets a line item, but not a budget.

Monae, like many of the other presenters or performers, said the quiet parts out loud. “We celebrate women who directed great films!” shouted Monae, leaving unsung the fact that none of them were nominated. Then finally: “Everyone come ALIVE,” she belted out. “Because Oscars are so WHITE!”

The Academy has worked hard to diversify their membership ranks, and more diversity in the industry may eventually help. But as these two anonymous Hollywood Reporter interviews with Academy voters show, many seem to treat it more like a right than a privilege, a subjective act performed without rigor or science, only to settle on stories mostly about themselves.

They’re not even required to watch all the films.

“Quentin Tarantino’s film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, was even better the second time than the first. I was in L.A. in the ’60s, and I thought he captured that era perfectly,” said one female voter and member of the Academy’s actor branch in her interview. On Best Director: “I thought Quentin did a great job, and I want an American director to win.” She also didn’t like American Factory because it showed Americans “as big fat slobs.” She voted for Honeyland in the documentary category, “because it’s a beautiful story about saving the environment that is told so simply, without hammering us over the head like Greta whatever.” She didn’t vote for an Animated Short—the category that included Hair Love—because she didn’t have time to watch any.

One male Academy member from the producer ranks did finish the movies, not that it mattered. 

“We all have our ups and downs in this business—I’m not at the high-point of my career right now, so I could identify very much with the characters, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood gave me hope,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “And it leaves you thinking about what could have been in a better world: What would Sharon Tate’s life have been if this hadn’t happened? What would [Roman] Polanski’s life have been?! It puts tears in my eyes when I think about it.” Also: “Hair Love, to me, was shallow—I didn’t get it.”

It confirmed the worst fears of many observers that a movie like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was destined to win because it was about Hollywood being in love with the sound of its own mythmaking.

This is all partly why it was such a surprise that Parasite, the fairy-tale-like story of greed and inequality from director Bong Joon Ho, won so decisively. Bong won or shared four big awards: Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature, and most pointedly, Best Director, and Best Picture. Parasite is the first non-English language film to win Best Picture and the first award for South Korean cinema. 

Bong also bested the broader cultural zeitgeist. “Three of the four most-nominated movies—The Irishman, Joker, and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood—are stories about white men who feel culturally imperiled,” observes Mark Harris in Vanity Fair. “The fourth, 1917, is about white men who are literally imperiled.”

Parasite’s Best Picture win was a legitimate breakthrough and an opportunity to demonstrate how stories from all cultures can have universal resonance—and how, as Bong clearly believes, that proximity without intention will never be enough to drive true equity or inclusion.

He leaves you thinking about what can be in a better world.

“We currently live in this fantasy that people are equal, that the class system is obsolete, that we live in a free democratic society,” he recently told Fortune. “I think the second half of this film shows the brutal truth that we still live in a cruel, classist society where these borderlines can never be eradicated. Jobs like tutoring, housekeeping, and driving create situations where people of different classes come so close to each other that they can smell one another, but they still can’t overcome the line that divides them.”

Ellen McGirt

On Point

“Hair Love” wins Best Animated Short and our hearts NFL-er turned filmmaker Matthew A. Cherry’s animated short film, “Hair Love,” produced along with Karen Rupert Tolliver, tells the sweet story of Black father who learns to do his daughter’s hair in advance of a special event. It has come to represent so much more. The “Hair Love” journey to the Oscars started as a dream Cherry first spoke into existence on Twitter and Kickstarter. The final product ultimately became a rallying cry for natural Black hair and universal dignity. In his speech, Cherry called for federal passage of the CROWN Act, a California law that ends discrimination based on hair style or texture. Accompanying Cherry to the Oscar show was Deandre Arnold and his family; Arnold is the Texas high school student who became a national story after has was suspended from high school and barred from walking in his graduation ceremony for refusing to cut his dreadlocks.
Washington Post

The first Indigenous filmmaker wins Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar Director Taika Waititi won for his work adapting Jojo Rabbit, which is based on Christine Leunens’ 2008 novel Caging Skies about a young boy growing up without a father in Hitler-era Germany. Waititi is of Māori heritage, making him the first Indigenous person to win this award. “This is really great, and I dedicate this to all the indigenous kids who live in the world who want to do art, and dance, and write stories,” he said during his speech. “We are the original storytellers and we can make it here as well.” Waititi, who is known for his sense of humor and original style, used his backstage interview time imploring Apple to build better keyboards for their MacBooks, and was later caught by actor Brie Larson safely stowing his Oscar under the seat in front of him. Please give more Oscars.

Ursula Burns donates $1 million to African American oral history archive The HistoryMakers is the largest video-based collection of stories of Black lives and achievement in the U.S., and housed in the Library of Congress. Burns, who was the first African-American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company, said the work of the organization was critical. “We must continue to support their efforts and help provide the resources to ensure that the legacy of black women is preserved and presented with truth, honor, and integrity,” she said at a lunch to announce the gift. HistoryMakers founder and president Julieanna L. Richardson said that it was essential to get the interviews before it was too late. “We are at risk of losing 20th-century documentation within 10 to 15 years,” she said. “Burns’ million-dollar gift has made it possible for us to move forward with the selection process to secure many significant interviews with Black women.”
Black Enterprise

On Background

Here’s why Antonio Banderas is not a person of color It’s basically the same reason that Pablo Picasso is never described as a “great Hispanic artist.” Antonio Banderas, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Pedro Almodóvar's Pain and Glory, is from Spain, which is a country in Europe. Like many countries in Europe, Spain has a large population of white people. Banderas is among them. He is good-natured about the confusion it causes when he’s been asked to identify his race on forms—which is white—and told that he was wrong. "I don't know what I am," he said in an interview with Univision's Jorge Ramos earlier this year. He just goes with the flow now. "When I've gone to the U.S., I've considered myself Latino, because those are the people I've connected with the most."

White women once wanted a monument to “mammies” Alison M. Parker, a history professor at the University of Delaware, reminds of the time when some members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy lobbied Congress for a “monument to the faithful colored mammies.” It was 1923. Parker says this history “exposes the lie of those who describe Confederate monuments as innocuous celebrations of Southern heritage,” for the cynical maneuver to enforce white supremacy that it is. It was almost built, too. (There are, however, three “faithful slave” monuments.) Click through for the model, which was created by, and I am not making this up, a sculptor named Ulric Stonewall Jackson Dunbar.
New York Times

W.E.B. Du Bois drew his own infographics, among many other things Of all the many things Du Bois is known for, here’s one most don’t know: He was an early data scientist as well. Starting in 1897, after he became a professor of history, sociology, and economics at Atlanta University, he began publishing scholarly works exploring the lives of Black people based on his extensive fieldwork. His work immediately found a wider audience: In 1900, the Paris Exposition hosted the Exhibit of American Negroes, which included 58 gorgeous hand-drawn infographics created by Du Bois and his students. The information focused mostly on the socio-economic lives of the black populations they studied, but the presentation was pure cutting edge, “strikingly vibrant and modern, almost anticipating the crossing lines of Piet Mondrian or the intersecting shapes of Wassily Kandinsky,” according to one expert.
Public Domain Review

Tamara El-Waylly produces raceAhead and manages the op-ed program.


“The equality in political, industrial, and social life, which modern men must have in order to live, is not to be confounded with sameness. On the contrary, in our case, it is rather insistence upon the right of diversity; upon the right of a human being to be a man even if he does not wear the same cut of vest, the same curl of hair or the same color of skin.”

W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folks