'Parasite' wins Best Picture Oscar, signaling big change for Hollywood
Calls for diversity and inclusion in Hollywood were heard loud and clear during Sunday's Academy Awards, as South Korea's "Parasite" became the night's big winner, taking home four trophies including an upset win for Best Picture.
It was the first time in the 92-year history of the Academy Awards that a foreign language film made off with the year's top prize. And it came during a night when Hollywood acknowledged its shortcomings with regards to racial and gender inequities and appeared eager to course correct.
Rather than an evening of self-congratulation, at times it seemed like the Oscars were hosting an Oscars roast. Chris Rock set the tone for the night early, taking aim at the field of all-male nominees for Best Director during a segment with Steve Martin.
"There's so many great directors nominated this year," Rock said, to which Martin replied, "I don't know, Chris, I thought there was something missing from the list this year." Not missing a beat, Rock nodded and asked, "vaginas?"
The former Oscar host then teed off on the field of acting nominees, which was mostly white, save for Cynthia Erivo, who was nominated for Best Actress for playing Harriet Tubman in "Harriet."
"Cynthia did such a great job in 'Harriet' hiding black people that the Academy got her to hide all the black nominees," Rock joked, turning to Erivo and asking, "Cynthia, is Eddie Murphy under this stage?" Murphy, who was snubbed for his performance in "Dolemite is My Name," was one of several overlooked actors of color in this year's nominations.
The jokes would have been just that, jokes, but there was a marked change in the show not only in its winners but in its presenters and its overall tone.
Janelle Monae opened the show, performing an energetic but misguided song-and-dance routine to her own "Come Alive" that featured dancing Jokers, an odd homage to "Midsommar" and a few awkward attempts at audience participation.
It was old-school in its sense of out-of-touch self-importance and signaled a bumpy road ahead for the telecast, though it was quickly brushed aside and the show never got that bad again.
Well, it almost did when "Brittany Runs a Marathon" actor Utkarsh Ambudkar freestyled from the stage about what had already happened earlier in the evening, a feeble attempt to bring hip-hop energy to the awards show. (That was better handled by Eminem, who showed up and gave a surprise performance of his "8 Mile" anthem "Lose Yourself," delivered 17 years after he skipped the ceremony when it won an award for Best Original Song.)
But there were other moments during the evening where the desire for change felt real and sincere.
During the Best Original Score nominees, the Academy orchestra was conducted by a woman for the first time in show history.
Presenters Gal Gadot, Brie Larson and Sigourney Weaver shared a girl power moment together on stage and Weaver said, "all women are superheroes." And when Idina Menzel performed her nominated "Frozen 2" hit "Into the Unknown," she shared the stage with an international cast of singers who perform as the voice of "Frozen's" Elsa around the world.
And then there were the winners. Karen Rupert Toliver, accepting the award for Best Animated Short for "Good Hair," made an argument for better representation in stories, "especially in cartoons," since that is an early entry point into entertainment for children.
"Jojo Rabbit" writer-director Taika Waititi, the son of a Māori farmer in New Zealand, gave a shout out to "all the indigenous kids" watching around the world. "We are the original storytellers, and we can make it here," he said, referring to Tinsel Town. And "Joker's" Hildur Guðnadóttir, who hails from Iceland, became just the third female composer to win an Oscar for Best Original Score.
Expected winners Joaquin Phoenix, Renée Zellweger, Brad Pitt and Laura Dern took the acting prizes. Phoenix spoke up about Hollywood's need to give voice to the voiceless through better handling of gender and race issues, and then took a hard left into animal rights. Pitt gave it up for Hollywood stunt people while Zellweger and Dern both spoke of heroes, with Dern citing her parents.
In addition to Best Picture, "Parasite" also won Best International Feature Film, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director for Bong Joon Ho. In the last 10 years, just one American-born director, "La La Land's" Damien Chazelle, has won the Best Director statue.
Bong joked with the audience that he was ready to drink following an early win; later, during his Best Director win, he said, "Now I’m ready to drink until tomorrow.”
World War I epic "1917," the Best Picture favorite heading into Sunday, won three awards in technical categories, for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects.
"Ford v Ferrari" won a pair of technical awards, for Best Sound Editing and Best Film Editing, and "Bombshell" won an award for Hairstyle and Makeup, largely for transforming Charlize Theron into a dead ringer for Megyn Kelly.
Elsewhere, Elton John and his writing partner Bernie Taupin picked up the Best Original Song Oscar for "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again,” from "Rocketman." "Wow, this doesn’t suck," Taupin said when he hit the stage.
And that carried over to the Oscar show. It moved at a good pace, despite stretching to the just-under-three-and-a-half-hour mark, and it was filled with less unnecessary, embarrassing pomp than usual Oscar shows.
The show was host-less for the second year in a row, which was mostly fine, although Rock and Martin showed the value a quick-witted host can add to a show when given an opportunity.
The bigger question the Academy faces going forward: After rewarding "Parasite" with its top honor, what does that mean for the casual movie fan?
"Parasite," a subtitled satire-slash-thriller that deals frankly with class issues and delves into violent, gory territory, has earned $35 million so far at the domestic box office. That makes it a hit for a foreign film but minuscule compared to fellow nominees "Joker," "Ford v Ferrari," "Little Women," "1917" and "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," all of which earned more than $100 million at North American theaters. (Among the nominees, only "Jojo Rabbit" has a lower domestic gross; nominees "Marriage Story" and "The Irishman" are both Netflix productions and had only limited theatrical engagements.)
"Parasite" becomes the seventh Best Picture winner in a row to not cross the $100 million mark in theaters; the last to do so was "Argo," in 2012.
At a time when movies are facing stiffer competition than ever from streaming entertainment options, it is honoring films with limited commercial appeal, which is like shutting the door at a time when it should be inviting everyone in.
On Sunday, Hollywood made some big moves toward leveling the playing field of inclusion and representation in its own ranks. Ironically, when it finally gets to where it wants to be in those areas, there might not be much of an audience left to take notice.