Photo: Getty Images
“If not now, when?”
Parasite’s unofficial Oscars campaign tagline bears this question. Parasite had won four 2020 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Katie Hasty writes in her column, “Parasite wasn’t simply an achievement in filmmaking, but a movie with a message about class, cruelty, and poverty. It was the underdog at a ceremony traditionally so white it has earned a seemingly unshakeable hashtag to match, and where non-English language films are relegated to the Best International Feature category the vast majority of the time. Extremely few people of color had won Best Director, as Bong Joon Ho had. Prior to these awards, no Korean film had even scored an Oscars nomination. And never had a non-English language film won Best Picture.”
“If not now, when?” was first posted on the movie’s Twitter account on January 23, alongside a behind-the-scenes photo of the cast smiling at the camera. Katie Hasty describes the photo as if they are saying: Voter, cast your ballot for this exquisite piece of art that just happens to be made by non-white, non-English speakers in a foreign language—what are you waiting for, permission?
The phrase is a question and also a challenge.
Parasite producer Kwak Sin-ae, via an English translator, said that an “opportune moment in history is happening right now” as she accepted Best Picture, highlighting the immediacy of “if not now, when?”
Katie Hasty remarks on this with, “Now is an era when entertainment and the arts still very much struggle with racial, cultural, and gender representation. Now is a time—undeniably—where class and visibility are at the heart of global political-culture clashes. Now is an election year.”
The election year was very much present in the minds of several Oscars night winners and presenters, highlighting even the most divisive issues in their speeches and intros.
Best Documentary Feature winner American Factory Julia Reichert referenced labor unions and the working class: “Working people have it harder and harder these days. We believe that things will get better when workers of the world unite.”
Best Supporting Actor winner Brad Pitt made a jab at the 45-second limit on acceptance speeches, “45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week,” as a condemnation of the proceedings during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
Best Actor winner Joaquin Phoenix linked his argument for animal rights and veganism to the destruction of the planet and the responsibility of the “inventive and creative and ingenious” people in the room to fight inequality.
Taika Waititi combines two separate moments into a single bittersweet challenge to the viewer. Early in the ceremony, Waititi dedicated his Best Adapted Screenplay win to creative “indigenous kids of the world.”
Later, he read: “The Academy would like to acknowledge that they are gathered on the ancestral lands of the Tongva, Tataviam, and Chumash…. the first people of this land on which our motion picture community lives and works.”
These are indigenous tribes in North America that, like many indigenous tribes across the globe, are on the brink of extinction after centuries of displacement, forced conversion, and disease.
“It was a disparity: shouting out to a new generation of peoples whose cultures struggle to survive,” Katie Hasty wrote.
She ended her column with a challenge of her own: “It’s rare when anybody—celebrity or not—gets a quiet room, to take up all the air, and to put their stamp on the ‘now.’ Whether the viewer agrees with the perspectives or not, who can blame entertainers for trying to challenge their audience. Because if not now, when?”