“By the way, how bad were the Academy Awards this year?”
At a campaign event this past Thursday, President Trump took a minute to bash the Korean film “Parasite,” this year’s Best Picture. “What the hell was that?” Trump asked, claiming economic tensions with South Korea as an appropriate override to meritocracy and seeking a return to movies in the mold of “Gone With the Wind” as ideal award winners.
Trump’s comments are not surprising — they’re only the latest in a long line of provocative comments straddling the line between nationalism and xenophobia. Next to his actions along the United States-Mexico border, his travel bans, and his countless tweets, Trump’s squalling about “Parasite” seems tame. At the end of the day, it’s just a movie, one might scoff, but the fact that the sitting President of the United States incorporated it into his repertoire of tasteless jabs is demonstrative of its power.
With his comments, no matter how glib, Trump sought to expose a vein of frustration stemming from the feeling that, with the victory of a Korean film, an American film was robbed — that after four years of rebuilding America to some mythical and fictional greatness, the labors of Trump and his supporters are being undermined by the seeping of anti-American, left-wing forces into even the most American of symbols: Hollywood.
Four years ago, Trump was elected to a cacophony of negativity, successfully playing on the fear that America had fallen from greatness. His hopes for reelection now lie in convincing enough Americans that any change in the Oval Office will bring back those “dark times” when our elected officials were paragons of upstanding citizens, or at least had the shame to pretend to be. In part, his tactics have involved drawing an equivalency between the victories of people of color and the defeat of white America. And thus, when director Bong Joon-ho brought together the lips of two Oscar statuettes, Trump knew that he could find in this moment of triumph a loss for America.
In recent years, the Oscars have been criticized on numerous occasions for lack of gender and racial representation — a fate it once again failed to escape this year — but it has also been stunningly myopic in its treatment of international and multicultural filmmaking. In nearly a century of Oscars, “Parasite” is the first and only non-English film to win Best Picture. It is only the 11th foreign language film to even be nominated. And no matter how Trump attempts to paint it, “Parasite” is not only a win for Koreans, but a win for the American ideal of a community that finds strength in welcoming diversity in thought.
In elementary school, we were told stories of hopeful immigrants gazing upon New York for the first time. We were told liberty was not just a rusting statue but an active testament to American exceptionalism. This was a flawed sentiment, but, as children, we found power in the stories of peoples from across the world bringing their cultures and dreams into one place. The entertainment industry, however, has long played catchup to this ideal. The Oscar for Best Picture is not named the Best American Picture, and yet it nearly always fails to consider non-American films.
When the Oscars highlight, almost exclusively, stories told through American eyes and portrayed by American actors, they fail to consider the vastness of perspectives in our world. In failing this, they miss the opportunity to widen our thinking and to combat the toxic isolationism that Trump caters to. They allow to fester the mindset that Trump seeks to exploit — that America is a place intended for a narrow definition of people, and that we are perpetually in a zero-sum game with people from other nations.
How bad were the Academy Awards this year? Rather than perpetuate previous failures, the Oscars took a step forward. This year’s win is a reaffirmation of the values we were taught as children and a timely refutation of Trumpian politics. Other cultures, their people, and their lifeworks deserve a place in American society, as they always should have. And despite our current president’s best efforts, this place will endure and grow until one day, “Parasite” and its Oscar win will not be remarkable for being an anomaly, but rather for merit alone.
Richard Ma is a sophomore from Kirksville, Miss. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.