COLUMN: Bong Joon-ho gives me hope


Director Bong Joon-ho poses in the photo room at the 92nd Academy Awards Feb. 9 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California. His film, "Parasite", was the winner of the International Feature and Best Picture Oscar. Tribune News Service

Last week, I threatened to never watch the Oscars again if “Parasite” got snubbed. Last night, the Academy heeded my threat and awarded Bong Joon-ho four Oscars, including the Best Picture award for “Parasite.”

I wasn’t just rooting for Bong because “Parasite” was the best film of 2019. I was rooting for him because I am an Asian female filmmaker who sees herself in cinema more and more thanks to people like Bong and the stories he tells.

The South Korean filmmaker’s first win of the night was for Best Original Screenplay, the award also going to his collaborator Han Jin-won. Next, “Parasite” won the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.

I was in tears by the time Bong won Best Director over the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese. Bong is only the second Asian person to win Best Director, following Ang Lee’s two wins for directing “Brokeback Mountain” and “Life of Pi.”

“Parasite” ultimately broke history by taking home the night’s biggest award, Best Picture. It’s the first film in a foreign language to win this Academy Award. After 92 Academy Awards shows, the Academy finally overcame the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles.

Snarky comments like those in the infamous “one-inch tall barrier of subtitles” speech and his use of a translator have made Bong a target of xenophobia, as people of color from other countries often become subject to once they start getting as or more successful than their Caucasian counterparts.

Some have taken to Twitter to express their distaste for Bong and his film, with Internet conservative Jon Miller tweeting, “These people are the destruction of America.”

That’s a pretty intense statement to make over an objectively amazing filmmaker winning an Oscar and giving his acceptance speech in his native language, but all I can do is laugh because Bong has four Oscars and Miller has none.

I have my own first short film premiere coming up in a month, and while the process of filmmaking left me with so much insecurity and anxiety, I just know now that if Bong can make it, so can I. With all the issues I’ve overcome in my own writing and filmmaking as an Asian person, Bong’s success fuels me to keep moving forward and simply laugh in the face of adversity.

It’s an intimidating world for brave and bold Asians like Bong and myself who know their worth and aren’t afraid to show it. There have been countless times when just the sheer presence of my white male peers has led me to undervalue myself and ultimately underperform.

But the abounding success of Bong’s “Parasite” fills me with hope for not just my own future, but the future of cinema and fellow aspiring filmmakers like me. Without movies like “Parasite” and filmmakers like Bong, our cinematic scope would be far more narrow and way less colorful. The time to embrace cinema like this may be long overdue, but at least it’s finally here.

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