Last night, the Academy Awards finally got it right. But just a year ago (though it feels more like 500), Roma was a beloved piece of groundbreaking cinema, centering on and starring an indigenous woman who is a domestic worker for a wealthy family in 1970s Mexico City. Released in an era of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies in the U.S., it won the Academy Award for what was then called Best Foreign Language Film (the category was renamed Best International Feature Film this year). Roma was poised to become the first foreign film to win Best Picture. And then it didn't.
Green Book, a white savior narrative steeped in controversies, including co-star Viggo Mortensen's use of the n-word at a screening and a disagreement with the family of the person on which the film was based, Dr. Don Shirley, calling the film "a symphony of lies." Roma's loss, which came after wins for Barry Jenkins' lush, Black-centered coming-of-age story Moonlight (2017) and Mexican director Guillermo del Toro's strange interspecies love story The Shape of Water (2018), stung.
It felt as though the movement forward the Academy Awards had been making since 2015's #OscarsSoWhite campaign had hit a pothole. This year's overwhelmingly white acting nominees and complete shutout of women directors made it feel as though the pothole had grown into a canyon. 2019 yielded plenty of excellent performances by non-white actors worthy of a nomination (Justice for J.Lo, Eddie Murphy, Awkwafina, Lupita Nyong'o, and the whole damn cast of Parasite!) and women directors who created fantastic films (Greta Gerwig! Lorene Scafaria! Lulu Wang! Melina Matsoukas! Alma Har'el!), and no excuse could cover for these snubs. But Bong Joon-Ho's Parasite's historic wins feel a little like retribution for the giant step back that was last year, and it's a win for the stories and people that are constantly ignored in Hollywood.
Parasite won based on its singular brilliance and its ability to make a bold statement against capitalism and class oppression. The hope is that we continue to see films made by and centering people from different backgrounds as works of art that aren't siloed off from the American films honored in the Best Picture category, that these stories to be seen as worthy of telling and accolades, and that a win like this doesn't just happen once and never again because a box has been ticked. Roma could have won in 2019 and we’d still be ecstatic to see Parasite triumph in 2020, because there’s room for both and countless more. Films shouldn't have to fight among themselves for a single seat at a table that offers limitless chairs to white stories.
For those who long to see Hollywood put greater investment in diverse stories, Roma's loss was an upset in the deepest way. With Parasite's achievement, we can celebrate the shattering of another first, be excited for the positive impact it can have, and feel good knowing its win is a giant push for Hollywood to erase the borders that kept films like Roma from getting their due.