The cast and creative team for “Parasite” took the stage on Sunday to accept the award for best picture, capping off what was a huge night for the film and a significant night for global cinema.
“I feel like a very opportune moment in history is happening right now,” producer Kwak Sin Ae said, via translator.
She wasn’t wrong. “Parasite” picked up four awards on Sunday night, including a history-making best picture win.
After she spoke, Miky Lee, a Korean entertainment mogul, attempted to take a turn at the mic, but the lights on stage dimmed as the camera prepared to return to Jane Fonda, who would close the night.
But those in the audience protested, asking loudly from their seats for the stage directors to turn the lights back up and let Lee speak.
They won, and she got her turn.
The film’s Oscar campaign sort of played out in a similar way. If at any time it looked like the spotlight on “Parasite” might dim, it would shine again – first a Palme d’Or award, then history-making SAG Award win, then a BAFTA and so on.
In the end, the infectious buzz around the film, which centers on two families on opposite sides of South Korea’s economic gap, turned out to be too powerful for its Oscar competitors, which included some of Hollywood’s most seasoned filmmakers.
“Parasite” is the first non-English film and first South Korean film to win best picture at the Academy Awards.
It is also the first film to win both best international feature (a category previously called best foreign-language film) and best picture.
Only 11 non-English language films have ever been nominated in the category.
When asked after the ceremony by CNN’s Stephanie Elam how he felt about the film’s historic success, director Bong Joon Ho was still taking in the news.
“I think we destroyed the barrier too much!” he joked, via translator Sharon Choi. “I think it’s great in life when things happen so fast and that’s what’s happening tonight.”
“Parasite” also picked up best director, best international feature film and best original screenplay.
Heading into Sunday night, “1917” and “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” had been considered major competition for the movie. The question on the minds of many in Hollywood had been whether the Academy would put its votes toward those films – the likes of which have been recognized in the past (a war epic and a star-packed film from a beloved director) – or honor a filmmaker and cast less familiar to the mainstream.
With the win for “Parasite,” the Academy made a choice to honor a film unlike any of those honored in the past 91 ceremonies.
It’s a victory for a community that still struggles to be seen – one that comes in a year that had been criticized for a lack of individual nominees of color. (Only one actor of color – Cynthia Erivo, star of “Harriet” – was nominated this year in the major acting categories.)
Nancy Wang Yuen, a sociologist and author of “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism,” previously told CNN that “Parasite” earning best picture could open up opportunities for Asian-American actors, who have a difficult time getting their work recognized on the awards circuit. (For example, “Crazy Rich Asians,” which was a success at the box office and a milestone moment for Asian representation, but unsuccessful in its bid for Oscars recognition.)
“I think the fact that Asian Americans are rooting for ‘Parasite’ is because we still aren’t even seeing ourselves in main dramatic roles,” she said. “The more Asians succeed on the international stage, I think Asian Americans do feel like that will then open up more opportunities for Asian-American actors in Hollywood.”
On social media, the win was hailed.
Sandra Oh, who presented on Sunday night, said, “Congratulations @ParasiteMovie So so proud to be Korean.”
“The game has changed,” wrote actor Lewis Tan. “I’m in tears. This is historic.”
Actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, from “Kim’s Convenience” added: “Lookit all those Koreans onstage at the #Oscars. So proud my heart is bursting.”