“Tonight was so unbelievable,” Bong told the invitation-only crowd, to loud cheers.
“Parasite’s” final win turned what had previously been simply been a night of outliers — with director, screenplay and international-feature victories for “Parasite” earlier in the evening — into the stuff of history. Screenplay and directing wins for non-English movies are rare but not unprecedented. Before Sunday, however, every single best picture in the 91-year-history of the Oscars had been predominantly in English. “Parasite” is in Korean.
Quinn added his observation. “We put the rest of the industry in check,” he declared, to another decibel-shattering surge of cheers.
It would be hard to overstate the disruption of “Parasite’s” win. Hollywood has exported its product to countries around the globe with increasing vigor in recent years. Overseas box office exceeded $31 billion in 2019, a record.
Yet importing other countries’ output has been much rarer. Broad hits from outside the English-speaking world until now were almost nonexistent; the previous foreign-language best picture nominee to be released widely in theaters, 2012’s “Amour,” generated $7 million in U.S. receipts. The best picture award has long been the ultimate symbol of this domestic mindset — one that until relatively recently ensured its shiny prize didn’t even go to films made outside the studio system, let alone one in a country 6,000 miles away.
Agents, producers, directors and publicists — but notably no major studio executives — who populated the after-party wondered whether “Parasite,” with $36 million in U.S. box office receipts and a bunch more after the Oscar exposure, is a sign that globalism now finally cuts the other way.
“I think what you’re seeing here is that this isn’t just Hollywood telling people in Europe, Asia and everywhere else what to see,” Céline Sciamma, the French director whose drama “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” was nominated for a Golden Globe this year, said in an interview at the party. “It’s a dialogue, and sometimes the rest of the world might tell America what’s worth seeing, too.”
The Oscars were created for an essentially local industry that now exists in a world that’s gone beyond the local. Sciamma raised the questions that had been percolating even before Oscar voters decided to offer an answer: What are the responsibilities of an industry that exports so much of its product to the rest of the world to hear what the rest of the world has to say in return? Can it continue looking outward for money but turn inward for glory?
The “Parasite” gathering late Sunday night — essentially a more darkly lighted and well-tailored version of an election-night victory party — was taking place at Soho House, the private club atop a high-rise that serves as a kind of cultural nerve center for modern Hollywood. It is the space where deals are hashed out over meals during the day and triumphs are celebrated at night; every network or studio in town has hosted an event here.
That it was the place where the night’s best picture was celebrated was not a surprise.
That such a celebration was filled with representation of Korean culture was.
A Korean boy band, A.C.E, played, jumped and danced in matching suits as it did call-outs to the movie. In one corner sat Miky Lee, the 61-year-old South Korean media magnate who, as vice chair of the country’s CJ Group, financed “Parasite” along with many other shows, movies and K-pop outfits. She held court, greeting a long line of well-wishers while sitting next to the legendary American music producer Quincy Jones, making literal the transpacific moment that “Parasite’s” win represented.
The openness comes at a moment of protectionism generally. The Trump administration has tried to restrict the entry of both overseas products and people. Hollywood, after years of imposing its own national agenda, was now (slightly) throwing open its borders.
The shift was not lost on people throughout the film world.
Thierry Frémaux, director of the Cannes Film Festival where “Parasite” launched, said “this shows that America and Cannes can come together, not live apart.” He added “it means cinema belongs in theaters” — a clear jab at Netflix, with which the festival has feuded and which came away with just an acting and documentary prize Sunday despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars on awards contenders.
Producers were equally buoyed.
“I think it changes Hollywood forever,” said Rodrigo Teixeira, the Brazilian-born producer behind both foreign- and English-language films, including cult favorite “The Lighthouse” (English), “The Father’s Shadow” (foreign language) and past Oscar winner “Call Me by Your Name” (multilingual).
Already he and others are relishing the chance to pitch projects to financiers with “Parasite” in their back pockets. In a town that elevates a fear of missing out from social media anxiety to professional animating principal, “Do you really want to risk losing the next best picture winner?” packs a big pitch-meeting punch.
The win comes at a time when Hollywood may need to work more closely with other parts of the world if it hopes to maintain its exporting success. China is showing signs of cooling to — or at least being less reliant on — American product. And while U.S. movies hit new sales heights last year overseas, that is expected to slow in 2020 as the global-friendly Disney releases fewer franchise sequels and reboots.
“Parasite’s” disruption was not limited to its global aspects.
The movie’s success also represented a triumph for social media, particularly “film Twitter,” the loose collection of critics, fans and other voices that has become increasingly influential in recent years.
Oscar campaigning, consultants say, has changed. Where many past best picture winners have been part of efforts organized by studios that aim directly at the top — tastemakers at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — the “Parasite” campaign worked differently. Orchestrated by Quinn and a consultant group led by longtime indie-film marketer Ryan Werner of Cinetic Media, its goal was to seed the grass-roots first. Werner and his team courted film Twitter out of the movie’s Cannes premiere last May and then in the award-season months that followed in the fall.
The idea was that the group had become instrumental enough to basically send the buzz the other way — from its own digital wilds up to mainstream media outlets, then on to younger academy members and ultimately to the older academy guard whose voter is still essential to win best picture. Far from just measuring the buzz, film Twitter propelled it.
“You need the right movie, the right moment — all of that,” said an executive at a rival company who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But does anyone doubt these champions online played a big role in this win?” The executive said he believed it a playbook others would follow.
Many awards experts said the win showed that, foreign-language or not, the academy has become the place that sees no distinction between studios and independent companies, and in fact sometimes prefers the latter. This marks the third time in five years the top prize has gone to an independent studio. Neon is certainly that, not part of a global media conglomerate but owned and funded by the Gulf States Toyota mogul Dan Friedkin, who also finances Neon’s parent company, the investment firm 30 West, and entertainment-production company Imperative — a kind of mini-cluster of independent film financing, production and distribution.
It remains to be seen what future award efforts from the major will look like. The studios all dived in massively this year as Universal, Sony and Warner Bros. all made major plays — and all came up short for the grand prize. That was particularly true in the case of Universal, which had one of the year’s biggest bombs in “Cats” but an apparent surefire best picture winner in “1917." (That the movie has grossed $288 million around the world may help ease the sting.)
One sales agent said he was certain that, in a culture of global franchises, the academy might swing more toward foreign-language films, but studios themselves were unlikely to take the plunge. Even if they don’t, however, others will seek to continue the “Parasite” pattern. The Russo Bros. have recently financed “Mosul,” a new dramatic thriller about an Iraqi police force directed by Hollywood filmmaker Matthew Michael Carnahan. Its primary language? Arabic.