In the Oscar academy’s 92-year history, the South-Korean Parasite is the first non-English language film to win the main award of best picture (in total, the movie by Bong Joon-ho won four Oscars). This is a remarkable success, especially when compared to Netflix’s performance at the award show, with 24 nominations, but only winning two Oscars and its most-hyped movie The Irishman not winning any Oscar at all. Immediately, international filmmakers and distributors considered Parasite’s success not just as a case for the Oscars to encompass more than just Western films in the future, but also more general to open the door to global cinema.
What does this mean?
In his acceptance speeches, Bong Joon-ho specifically recognized and quoted the famous American film director Martin Scorsese (director of The Irishman) as his source of inspiration. Also, the movie follows Joseph Campbells hero’s journey, the storyline that is typical for many American movies. Still, Parasite is getting audiences around the world to watch non-English content, something that has been considered a challenge before. Furthermore, in an interview, Bong Joon-ho recognizes that the movie caries very subtle details that Western audiences won’t notice, such as the meaning of the Taiwanese cake shop in the movie, that stands for a failure of trying to make it by working hard and opening up a business. These subtleties like cultural symbols and messages are of particular importance: popular culture like movies are considered important soft power assets and as the world is reaching the end of the Atlantic era, American soft power might be increasingly challenged by soft power from other cultures.
Indeed, Western streaming platforms are getting ready for this new ‘global cinema’ or multipolar media world reality. Although Netflix is still primarily focusing on American content and its selection of locally-made programs is still small, it is starting to make its (Western) audiences comfortable with subtitles (including the Spanish “Elite”, the French “Call My Agent!”, the German “Dark”, and the Japanese “Atelier”) and ramping up investment in localized foreign language content (particularly in Europe and Asia). This is not only to fight domestic competition by captivating users with high-quality international productions, but also not to risk to be conceived as a boring, uniform platform predominantly broadcasting American content in a world where audiences are ready for more global content.