The first few months of 2020 have been historic for both positive and negative reasons. In the entertainment world, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite made history in February by becoming the first foreign film to win Best Picture in the Oscars. This was a major victory for many, highlighting the Academy’s attempts to move toward greater diversity.
Parasite’s win can, of course, be attributed to Bong Joon-ho’s genius filmmaking and willingness to tackle the universal problems of classism and injustice. For me, however, the fact that a South Korean film could win the most coveted title of the Oscars season, when so many viewers may shy away from the “1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles,” was a win for inclusivity as well.
Of course, with new strides comes backlash. A popular gripe with Parasite was the fact that it was not in English, somehow making it undeserving of its multiple accolades. Even now, with Parasite becoming available for streaming on Hulu, there are still complaints on it being in Korean. With talks of creating an American adaptation of Parasite (in English this time), as well as additional questions on why the equally talented cast of Parasite did not receive any Oscars nominations for their acting, there is still a ways to go with fully embracing the diversity in our entertainment.
Criticism aside, however, Parasite was already accomplished before the Oscars, winning multiple awards in other ceremonies alongside an eight-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. However, perhaps winning Best Picture meant that finally, non-American art could be appreciated for its value in America. Even more, it showed that Asian voices and perspectives could be loved and analyzed on the big screen too.
Only a couple of months later, however, we have transitioned back into a state where exclusion and xenophobia are on the rise due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. Though the exact origins of COVID-19 still have not been confirmed, anti-Chinese, and more broadly anti-Asian, sentiments have been becoming increasingly prominent, both in the news and in daily life.
NextShark, an organization covering Asian American news, has kept track of instances in which Asian Americans have experienced racism during the coronavirus pandemic. From being verbally abused to getting physical threats to facing online harassment, Asian Americans are now the targets of growing violence and hatred.
Why is it that people were so excited to support Asians and their crafts in just February, while now, Asians are being spat on, abused, and generalized into virus-carriers?
Really, Parasite and its popularity throughout America and the rest of the world is symbolic of something greater than masterful artistry. Its wins meant that foreign voices would finally become included as valid and major players in art and culture. While Parasite is a Korean film with a Korean audience, it has arguably become a triumph for the Asian community as a whole. It is a source of pride in Asian culture, talent, and viewpoints. It shows that Asians are not so different from everyone else.
Even though it may have taken place in another country, the struggles depicted in Parasite aren’t foreign. They are universal. Maybe Parasite was so loved and praised because it dug right into a human experience and feeling that wasn’t restricted by nationality. Even though we may not share the same face, we can share the same ordeals. For me, it gave me hope to see that Asian culture and characters could be so accepted, especially on American soil, where they would once have been seen as aliens.
There is some form of emotional, perhaps racial, whiplash that comes from being able to be so openly proud to be Asian, to being afraid of our own identity. Being Asian now has, in a way, become a condemnation.
Inclusion vacillates with the time. Asians are accepted one moment, when the climate feels good and right, but that support does not extend into difficult times when it is the most needed. Even though there was so much excitement over newfound diversity and inclusion in art – something that is incredibly influential in society now – perhaps those talks weren’t such a victory after all.
Ultimately, Asians seem to be expected to take the abuse thrown at them now, because they supposedly brought the coronavirus into the country in which they live, because they supposedly are dirty carriers of the virus that cannot eat normally. This kind of rhetoric and sentiment has always been present, setting the precedent for anti-Asian discrimination throughout history. But the circumstances created by the coronavirus outbreak have brought them out in full force.
As much as I want to have faith in the continual progression of society towards greater inclusion, there is still no unconditional acceptance for the Asian community. Despite breakthroughs in our arts and our increasing connections throughout the world, true inclusivity is an ongoing fight. Our identity is still a weapon that can and will be used against us – perhaps that is one of the most heartbreaking realizations that has emerged during this pandemic.
Featured Image by The Academy via Twitter