Parasite Is the First Non-English-Language Film to Win Best Picture

Paste magazine published this article on February 10, 2020.

Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite has made Oscar history, becoming the first film not in the English language to win Best Picture in the ceremony’s 92 years. Jane Fonda, who presented the award, peered at the envelope and, appearing breathless, took a moment of pregnant pause before announcing that Parasite had won. Applause echoed in Dolby Theatre as the cast and crew took the stage.

Producer Kwak Sin Ae gave an elated address in Korean, which was translated into English by Sharon Choi, saying, “I’m speechless. We never imagined this to ever happen, we are so happy. I feel like a very opportune moment in history is happening right now. I express my deepest gratitude and respect for all the members of The Academy for making this decision.”

Announcing Best Picture is typically one of the hallmarks of Oscar night. But in recent years, as The Academy gave Green Book the top prize in 2019, and, in 2017, crowned La La Land before announcing that Moonlight had actually won, some viewers have become increasingly skeptical of Oscar results: Do they still mean anything at all?

The Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 9, had moments that resonated. After Kwak Sin Ae concluded her speech, a slew of celebrities, from Charlize Theron to Tom Hanks, stood up from their front row seats and gave a standing ovation.

Miky Lee, a Parasite executive producer and Chairwoman of CJ Entertainment, addressed Bong, saying, “Thank you for being you,” and adding, “I like everything about him, his smile, his crazy hair, the way he talks, the way he walks and especially the way he directs.”

Parasite was nominated for six Academy Awards: Directing, Film Editing, International Feature Film (formerly called Foreign Language Film until the name was changed this year), Best Picture, Production Design and Original Screenplay. The film won each category except for Film Editing, which went to Ford v Ferrari, and Production Design, which went to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

As Vulture points out, Parasite is the first film since Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire in 2009 to win Best Picture without also winning in the acting categories. Bong is the first filmmaker to win a coveted triumvirate of categories—Best Picture, Directing and Original Screenplay—since Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman in 2014.

Although Parasite had an impressive array of accolades heading into the Oscars, including Cannes’ Palme d’Or and Ensemble Cast at the SAG Awards, some predicted a Best Picture win for 1917, which won Best Picture at the BAFTAs, or for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, given the industry’s appreciation for self-referential films about the industry a la Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, which won Best Picture in 2018.

In light of movements such as #OscarsSoWhite that illustrate Hollywood’s history of marginalizing films from directors and actors of color, plus reports that some members of The Academy did not watch Parasite because of the subtitles, fans were unsure who would be crowned Best Picture, even if many felt that Parasite was the most deserving.

Ava DuVernay told USA Today in the days leading up to the Oscars, “I think that we, as artists, need to calibrate how much we care. We can care. But how much [do] we care?,” adding, “And that calibration is going to come when the Oscars is part of a just industry and a balanced industry. Right now, it matters so much because there’s so much imbalance.”

Parasite wasn’t the only history-making winner at the 92nd Oscars. As Taika Waititi won his first Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Jojo Rabbit, he also became the first M?ori person to win an Oscar. Hildur Guðnadóttir, who won in the Original Score category for Joker, dedicated her acceptance speech “to the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters who hear the music bubbling within,” saying, “Please speak up. We need to hear your voices.” Guðnadóttir is the fourth woman in history to have won that category and is the first in 23 years, according to Variety.

For the complete list of winners and nominees, read Paste’s coverage here. You can revisit our Parasite-topped list of 2019’s best films right here.

Isabella DeLeo

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