Parasite makes Oscar history

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on February 11, 2020.

Bong (third from left) and the cast of Parasite posing at the 92nd Academy Awards in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, the US on Sunday. (Photo by Reuters)

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Parasite, a dark social satire from South Korea, won the Oscar for best picture on Sunday, making history as the first film in a language other than English to claim the movie industry’s highest honour.

Parasite, about the gap between rich and poor in modern Seoul, won a total of four Oscars, including best director and original screenplay for Bong Joon Ho and best international feature film. No film had ever won both international feature film and best picture at the Oscars.

It was a remarkable outcome for a film that played with subtitles in the US, beating movies by major studios and Hollywood veterans such as Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. The win also came at the end of an awards season that had been criticised for lack of diversity.

Instead, the Oscars stage was crowded with South Korean actors and film-makers, who mostly spoke to the audience through an interpreter.

“I am speechless,” said Kwak Sin Ae, one of Parasite’s co-producers. “We never imagined this would ever happen. We are so happy. I feel like a very opportune moment in history is happening right now.”

When Bong got his first Oscar of the night — for best original screenplay — he gazed at the golden statuette in amazement.

He later paid tribute to his four fellow director nominees, saying, “I would like to get a Texas chainsaw and split the Oscar into five and share it with all of you.”

The ceremony, held without an official host, was peppered with jokes and sarcastic commentary about the exclusion of women from the directing category and the list of 20 acting nominees that included just one person of colour.

The acting Oscars went as expected. Joaquin Phoenix won best actor for playing a failing clown who finds fame through violence in the Joker, and Renee Zellweger was named best actress for her performance as an ageing Judy Garland in the musical biopic Judy.

Phoenix, a strict vegan, gave a long, impassioned acceptance speech about climate change and animal rights but concluded on a personal note.

World War One movie 1917, from Universal Pictures, had been seen as the film to beat but won just three of its 10 nominations. They came for its stunning “one-shot” feel cinematography, for visual effects and for sound mixing.

Tarantino’s sentimental ode to Tinseltown, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, brought the first acting Oscar for Brad Pitt, who played a supporting role as a laid-back stunt man.

Laura Dern took the supporting actress Oscar, her first Academy Award, for playing a ruthless divorce lawyer in Marriage Story.

Music played a large part in the ceremony, with a surprise performance by Eminem of his 2003 Oscar-winning song Lose Yourself from 8 Mile.

Elton John won best original song for (I’m Gonna) Love Me Again from his biopic Rocketman, which he performed on Sunday night’s ceremony. And Billie Eilish sang the Beatles hit ballad Yesterday for the in memoriam segment.

American Factory, about the decline of manufacturing jobs in the industrial Midwest from former US president Barack and first lady Michelle Obama’s new production company, won the Oscar for best documentary. — Reuters