‘Parasite’ Makes Oscar History With Best Picture Win

By Brooks Barnes and Nicole Sperling

The South Korean film was the first foreign-language movie to win the top award. It also won best director, best international film and best original screenplay.

Image“Parasite” was named best picture at the 92nd Academy Awards on Sunday.
“Parasite” was named best picture at the 92nd Academy Awards on Sunday.Credit...Noel West for The New York Times

LOS ANGELES — A foreign-language film finally conquered the Oscars.

In a historic victory that highlighted the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ scramble to diversify its voting ranks following the outcry over #OscarsSoWhite, the South Korean thriller “Parasite” won best picture — the first foreign-language film to do so — and collected three other trophies on Sunday night, including one for Bong Joon Ho’s directing.

Parasite,” a genre-defying tale of class warfare, allowed voters to simultaneously embrace the future — Hollywood may finally be starting to move past its overreliance on white stories told by white filmmakers — and remain reverential to decades-old tradition: Unlike some other best-picture nominees, “Parasite” was given a conventional release in theaters.

[Here is a complete list of the Oscar winners.]

“I feel like a very opportune moment in history is happening right now,” Kwak Sin Ae, who produced “Parasite” with Bong, said as she accepted the Oscar for best picture. No film from South Korea had previously been nominated for Hollywood’s top prize.

The #OscarsSoWhite protests in 2015 and 2016 forced Hollywood to examine its systemic sidelining of minorities. Humiliated by the outrage that followed the academy’s failure to nominate any actors of color for Oscars — two years in a row — its leaders vowed to double minority membership by 2020. The academy has dramatically expanded its foreign contingent as a result, a necessity because Hollywood remains so overwhelmingly white and male. Last year, the academy invited 842 film industry professionals to become members, with invitees hailing from 59 countries.

The seismic win for “Parasite,” with its predominantly Asian cast, capped an Academy Awards ceremony that accentuated the importance of inclusion at every possible turn.

“To the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters who hear the music bubbling within — please speak up, we need to hear your voices,” Hildur Gudnadottir said as she collected the Oscar for best score for “Joker.” Her Oscar ended the academy’s 22-year streak of honoring male composers.

In honoring “Parasite,” voters slowed the rise of Netflix, which entered the 92nd Academy Awards with a field-leading 24 nominations but left with only two prizes. It was a rebuke, perhaps, to the streaming giant for spending a sultan’s ransom to campaign for votes and for largely bypassing theaters with its films. Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” relentlessly hyped by Netflix as one of the best films of the decade, was shut out on Sunday.

Netflix won for best documentary for “American Factory,” a documentary about a clash between a Chinese entrepreneur and blue-collar Ohioans; and Laura Dern won supporting actress for “Marriage Story,” a Netflix production.

“Parasite” won four Oscars, the most for any film. The blockbuster war drama “1917” was second, a showing that was much weaker than handicappers had predicted. It won three Oscars, including best cinematography for Roger Deakins, during the three-and-a-half-hour ceremony at the Dolby Theater.

Renée Zellweger — in a remarkable career comeback — was named best actress for playing a broke and broken Judy Garland in “Judy.” Zellweger was once an Academy Awards mainstay, receiving nods for “Bridget Jones’s Diary” (2002) and “Chicago” (2003) and winning for “Cold Mountain” (2004). But she hit a cold streak that resulted in a six-year hiatus from Hollywood.

Joaquin Phoenix won best actor for his performance as a deranged outcast in “Joker.” It was his first Oscar. Phoenix was previously nominated for “The Master” (2013), “Walk the Line” (2006) and “Gladiator” (2001). Phoenix used his acceptance speech to plead for a variety of causes, including animal rights. “We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow, and when she gives birth we steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable,” he said.

Turning to the topic of himself, Phoenix said: “I’ve been a scoundrel in my life. I’ve been selfish. I’ve been cruel at times, hard to work with, and I’m grateful that so many of you in this room have given me a second chance.”

He ended with a remembrance of his brother, River Phoenix, who died in 1993.

Janelle Monáe opened the ABC telecast by putting the audience on notice: Inclusion would be showcased — loudly — on the Oscar stage, regardless of the predominantly white group of nominees. “I’m so proud to stand here as a black queer artist telling stories,” she said before launching into a jazzy song-and-dance number that found her duetting with Billy Porter (“Pose”) and, ultimately, singing in a flower-covered coat while lying in an aisle.

Chris Rock and Steve Martin then took the stage — serving as the de facto hosts for a ceremony that was officially hostless — and took turns skewering the academy for putting forward an overwhelmingly white group of nominees and, once again, overlooking women in the directing category.

“There’s something missing,” Martin said.

“Vaginas?” Rock responded, to raucous applause.

Without much of a pause, the show switched gears and the first Oscar was handed out. Regina King (“If Beale Street Could Talk”) presented the supporting actor award to Brad Pitt for playing a stuntman in “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” Pitt offered a caustic appraisal of the Senate’s handling of impeachment proceedings before settling into a more upbeat speech that thanked Leonardo DiCaprio, his co-star, and Quentin Tarantino, who directed the film.

“You are one of a kind,” Pitt said of Tarantino.

Both “Parasite” and the World War I drama “1917” were anomalies as major best-picture contenders: No actors were nominated from either film, something that usually indicates the Oscar will go to another candidate.

But there are exceptions to this rule. “Slumdog Millionaire” was named best picture in 2009 without any acting nominations.

In an early sign of the academy’s affection for “Parasite,” Bong and Han Jin Won won an Oscar for writing the original screenplay for the film, beating Tarantino. “We never write to represent our countries, but this is very first Oscar to South Korea,” Bong said, speaking with the help of a translator. Han thanked his mother and father and dedicated the win to the filmmaking industry in South Korea.

Later, “Parasite” won best international film. It was the first South Korean movie to be nominated for what used to be known as best foreign film. “I’m ready to drink,” a giggling Bong said as he accepted that Oscar.

With its technical wizardry and impressive box office results — $287 million worldwide and counting — “1917” was honored for sound mixing and visual effects, in addition to cinematography. The car-racing drama “Ford v Ferrari” won sound editing and film editing.

But the academy otherwise spread the little gold men around.

Little Women,” with six nominations, received one Oscar, for Jacqueline Durran’s period costume designs. “Jojo Rabbit,” also with six nominations, won for Taika Waititi’s adapted screenplay. “I dedicate this to all the indigenous kids in the world who want to do art and dance and write stories — we are the original storytellers and we can make it here, as well,” Waititi said.

“Bombshell” collected the Oscar for makeup and hairstyling; Kazu Hiro, who handled the prosthetics needed to transform Charlize Theron into the former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, thanked Theron for her “bravery and passion.” Elton John and Bernie Taupin won best song for the rollicking “Rocketman” number “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again.”

When it comes to production design, voters tend to favor period reconstructions and fantasy world-building. (“Black Panther” won this category last year.) On Sunday, it was a three-way race. “1917” took viewers into muddy trenches and a bombed-out French town. “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” recreated swinging 1969 Los Angeles. And the “Parasite” team created an ultramodern house with secret passageways and an elegant garden.

Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh won for “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.”

The academy’s old guard has resisted a dogged push by Netflix to join the best-picture club, arguing that, since the streaming service does not release its films in a traditional theatrical manner, its offerings should be better considered by Emmy voters.

But the streaming giant seemed to be holding a very strong hand this year. “The Irishman,” Scorsese’s gangster character study, received 10 nominations. Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” got six. “The Two Popes” goes into the ceremony with three.

In the end, Netflix had to do a lot of smiling through gritted teeth. From the stage, Dern name-checked her “friends” at the streaming service, including Ted Sarandos, chief content officer, before tearfully thanking her parents, the Oscar-nominated actors Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern. “You got game,” she said.

The soggy red carpet did little to dampen the mood of the guests who showed up in droves two hours before the show’s start. Inside the Dolby Theater, the trend of serving only plant-based food on the awards circuit continued, with taro root tacos, cucumber wrapped avocados and eggplant crisps. “I couldn’t tell if it was onions or radishes,” said one befuddled guest.

Hollywood’s power brokers are all in attendance. But only Jeff Bezos was given his own trays of food as he stood at a high-top table in the lobby bar, snacking with his son and keeping tabs on his phone.

Maya Rudolph, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Spike Lee, all scheduled to present, mingled among the guests. Lee was dressed in a custom-made purple and gold tuxedo with “24” on the lapels to honor Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash two weeks ago. “I called my friends at Gucci,” he said, referring to how the tribute suit came to be.

Even the show’s producer Stephanie Alain, who is helming the telecast with Lynette Howell Taylor, was out mingling before the start of the show with her husband. “It’s going to be a great show. Very musical,” Alain said. She was glancing at her watch to see when she needed to head backstage. When asked if she’s been extra stressed in the lead up to the show, her husband said, “Oh, she’s loves this.”