Parasite — First-ever Best Picture Winner with Subtitles


Delaney Skelton, Features Editor

It doesn’t need repeating that Parasite’s win of Best Picture was a historical moment for many reasons. One of the most significant of these reasons lies, however, in the way the majority of Americans who watched the movie viewed it—with subtitles. For many, watching a movie in a foreign language, or any movie at all with subtitles, was a new experience. Some complained about subtitles blocking parts of the screen, and others worried about not being able to focus on the movie while reading subtitles, yet despite all this, Parasite won Best Picture as the Oscars over many other English-language movies. 

As the first-ever non-English language movie to win Best Picture, Parasite made waves with this win. Many Americans were exposed to subtitles for the first time when viewing this movie. For example, my mother, who oftentimes is barely able to pay attention to movies even when they are in English, sat down to watch Parasite on my recommendation. She wasn’t aware that it was in Korean until the movie began, and once she realized she’d have to read subtitles to watch the movie, she complained heavily—but I urged her to keep watching, and by the end, she was able to keep track of what was happening, and greatly enjoyed the film.

So is this a one-time moment for films with subtitles to get the spotlight? Maybe not. Subtitles in media are for more than just understanding films in another language—they can be helpful for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, or anyone else who may be in a situation where they have difficulty understanding spoken dialogue. And while this is the first time that a foreign-language film has won Best Picture, it is not the first success for subtitled media in America. Take, for example, foreign animation from countries such as Japan, which has a large audience in the States despite being non-English language. This is simply the next step in subtitles becoming more acceptable in American media—and a big first step, as Parasite made $35.5 million in North America and $72 million in South Korea for a total of more than $167 million worldwide.All in all, this certainly opens the door for possibly more films in foreign languages to hit American cinemas, and even have a chance at winning an Oscar. As Parasite’s director Bong Joon Ho said during his acceptance speech, “Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”