What does ‘Parasite's’ historic Oscar win mean for global cinema?

In a historic first, South Korea’s ‘Parasite’ has won the Oscar for Best Picture. (AFP)
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Updated 10 February 2020

What does ‘Parasite's’ historic Oscar win mean for global cinema?

DUBAI: The Oscars have always been a local affair. For the last 92 years, the elite of Hollywood, the filmmaking members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science gather in gowns and tuxedos to walk the red carpet past people they idle behind in the LA traffic, sit next to people they live down the block from, and give awards to people that they run into at the supermarket, that is if they do their own shopping at all.  

While the Academy Awards have always drawn eyes from around the world to see the films that the industry itself deems the best, Hollywood has often had a hard time looking beyond its borders. Until last night when South Korea’s Parasite triumphantly took home the top prize, no non-English language film had ever won Best Picture, in spite of the fact that international cinema has been pushing the artform forward since it was first brought forth by two mustachioed French brothers 125 years ago.  

It wasn’t until 1947, at the Oscars’ 18th ceremony, that international features were even awarded, and not until 1956 that the competitive category “Best Foreign Language Film” was added, where the work of history’s greatest directors such as Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini and Akira Kurasawa was relegated to. South Korea has been nominating films for the category since 1962, not achieving even a nomination until 2019—the year for which it finally won, and also the year that films stopped being considered “foreign language”, changed to “international feature” films. 

Bong Joon Ho also won Best Director. (AFP)

That change matters a lot—and may have provided an ease on the mental block that had stopped great international films from achieving the top honor. There is no ‘foreign language’ in film after all, as the language of cinema is universal. That was clear as Bong Joon Ho, who also won Best Director, quoted his hero and fellow nominee Martin Scorsese in his acceptance speech. Film has always bridged cultures, and the fact that a barrier remained towards full appreciation of the breadth of the artform was nonsensical and unjust. 

Now that Parasite, a film as specific in its cultural details as it is universal in its themes of income inequality and class disparity, has smashed that barrier, the world of international film can finally get the appreciation it deserves, bringing with it greater box office returns, and a broadening viewership. Not only does this keep the Oscars relevant, as they battle dwindling television ratings worldwide, it will give these films a platform previously reserved for those in Hollywood’s club of mostly homogenous, slowly diversifying membership, to the benefit of both filmmakers and fans. 

That bridge, too, is open to Arab cinema. Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum found huge audiences in China because, like Parasite, its themes resonate far beyond Lebanon’s borders. This lays out a clear path forward. As long as a film can touch on the truths of the human condition, it has just as much a right, and now possibility, to gain the highest of accolades. 

For Arab cinema to truly progress, however, it must gain greater public support in its own region rather than just hoping that international approval will be enough. The greatest dialogue must first happen within, just as it has with the thriving Korean film scene, where its own movies out-perform most international fare. As actress Lee Jung-eun rightly pointed out in the acceptance speech for Best Picture last night, it is fervent support at home, first and foremost, that grows its industry and allows great art such as Parasite to be made, and find audiences around the world. 

Emirati photographer finds that lockdowns have a silver lining

The photographer enjoys capturing industrial facilities and ghostly landscapes. (Tashkeel)
Updated 29 May 2020

Emirati photographer finds that lockdowns have a silver lining

DUBAI: The COVID-19 lockdowns may have cancelled festivals and closed down museums around the world, but some artists have continued to thrive.  

Emirati photographer Jalal Bin Thaneya told Arab News that in his field the pandemic has only slowed down artistic photography.

“Some documentary and news photographers are still able to work, especially those employed by organizations and governments fighting the virus,” Thaneya said. “Documenting and getting images of what is happening on the ground is extremely important.”

“Photography records moments,” the artist said. “In World War II, (the American photographer) Margaret Bourke-White was actively taking pictures and she has been a big influence on me.”

This, he believes, is an example of how photography and art have flourished during difficult times.

Despite the delays the lockdown has imposed on Thaneya’s projects, he says he now has got more time to work on his unpublished pictures. 


Rims 02, 120x160 cm, 2018 / #industry #beyondthefence

A post shared by Jalal Bin Thaneya (@binthaneya) on

“Priorities have shifted overnight. I have many images I made that I never showed which I’m currently compiling. The lockdown has given me time to organize myself and prepare for future projects,” he said. 

The self-taught artist, who enjoys capturing industrial facilities and ghostly landscapes, said: “What I do is very niche and not widely appreciated in the region.”


Valves / #industry #industrial_landscapes

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He discovered his passion by “accident” in 2013. “I saw old architecture being demolished at the Jabal Ali port and it is from that point that I started taking pictures of abandoned spaces before focusing on industrial landscapes and artefacts from 2016 to date.”

Thaneya believes that many people look down on his job. “However, if I listened to what people said, I would’ve stopped many years ago,” he added. 


Raw material feeder and cement silos. // #Industry #Industrial_Dubai

A post shared by Jalal Bin Thaneya (@binthaneya) on

“You’ve got to follow your intuition and do things that give you purpose. Listening and following the crowd will only dilute your character and individual essence,” he advised other photographers who wish to pursue this career. 

“We cannot allow others to do the thinking for us, we need to be clear and focused on what we would like to achieve,” Thaneya said.