Ever since Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite won Best Picture almost two weeks ago at the Oscars, the narrative has been nothing but positive. It’s the first international film to win the top award, and the Film community have breathed a sigh of relief that the Academy aren’t completely a lost cause (even though the lack of female directors and nominees of colour is always worrying). But alas, we should have known that the guy in the White House would have something to say about this, something entirely provocative, ignorant and downright insulting.
Yes, Donald Trump, at a rally last night in Colorado Springs (he should be governing but I digress), mused “the winner is a movie from South Korea, what the hell is that about?”. This was followed by not only inappropriate links to “problems” with trade between the US and South Korea (nothing to do with the film) but a reference to wanting Gone with the Wind back.
There are multiple things wrong with this, and Trump reveals his ignorance on so many levels that it’s stunning to see. First of all there’s the blatant racism underpinning his dissatisfaction with a non-American movie winning Best Picture. As the Academy honours all films released in US cinemas (regardless of language), the award for the best film of the year shouldn’t be partisan based on nationality. We like to joke that BAFTA always give the best film awards to the British releases, but there isn’t an official rule that dictates that to be the case. The fact that the US Academy decided to honour a foreign work speaks to their embrace of other cultures and their willingness to put aside previous ignorances and embrace world cinema. Thus for the President of the United States to denigrate this act of pluralism in the film industry is quite frankly not acceptable in 2020.
Then there’s the issue of Gone with the Wind, which makes the comments exponentially worse. The movie came out almost over 80 years ago for one thing (thus unfortunately making it ineligible for this year’s honours) but more importantly, there have been multiple discussions about how the film is also racially insensitive, sanitising slavery and glorifying the Confederacy in the Civil War. While it’s a classic of cinema, and the most successful film of all time in the US adjusted for inflation, there’s no denying that it’s entirely problematic in its story.
So for Trump to denigrate Parasite’s win and cite Gone with the Wind as epitomising his message of bringing back American cinema is a cocktail of racially insensitive rhetoric, and speaks to the regression in the attitudes that the President and his supporters hold. Quite frankly, I pity them as they’re clearly missing out on one of the best films in recent times. Parasite deserved Best Picture in every respect. I hate to hold the Academy up as a beacon of progression and moral didacticism, but their decision to give the win to South Korea was a ray of hope in America’s problem with race in 2020.