Inside the Oscars, ‘Parasite’ Points an Elated Hollywood Forward

The Academy wanted to fall in love with the social satire “Parasite” and its exuberant director Bong Joon Ho — and they allowed themselves to do so

Parasite Oscars 2020
Getty Images

There was something undeniably joyful at the Oscars about “Parasite’s” winning sweep. A roar arose from the audience at the Dolby Theater four mezzanines high every time “Parasite” was mentioned as a nominee. And an even louder roar erupted each time “Parasite” won: best screenplay, then international, then director and finally best picture.

It was the sound of the Hollywood community feeling elated at its expansive choice for Best Picture — a history-making Korean-language film about class differences and the human frailty that it brilliantly evoked through comedy, pathos and horror. Yes, the motion picture academy seemed to say, it could.

The feeling was vastly unlike the previous year, when the win of “Green Book” left a pained, politeness in the air, taking the Best Picture Award over the Spanish-language “Roma” and solidifying a look toward films of the past.  This year it felt like the Academy members wanted to fall in love with the social satire “Parasite” and its exuberant director Bong Joon Ho — and they allowed themselves to do so.

Themes of unity and inclusivity permeated the Oscars’ evening as a noticeable contrast to the political winds of our era and a country that has been turning inward. The telecast itself was intersectional in a way that felt new. The opening moments had Janelle Monae personifying the extremely-white children’s host and Protestant minister Mr. Rogers, while celebrating the many filmed stories of the year, including movies that weren’t nominated like “Us,” “Midsommar” and “Dolemite Is My Name.” And Billy Porter brought the full Porter.

Janelle Monae Oscars 2020

The not-hosting hosting of Steve Martin paired with Chris Rock felt like an organic but conscious choice, as did Kristen Wiig with Maya Rudolph.

Winning speeches like the rambling message of Renee Zellweger put a finger on unity. She cited examples of heroes who unite rather than divide us. And, oh yes, she thanked her immigrant parents.

You equally couldn’t miss the message put out by the two female producers of the telecast (another first) — Stephanie Allain and Lynette Howell Taylor — that inclusion was going to be the new normal for Oscar. They sent out a trio of female superheroes — Sigourney Weaver, Brie “Captain Marvel” Larson and Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot — to introduce the best scores of the year. The performance for that segment was led by a female orchestra conductor, and the Oscar ultimately went to Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir for “Joker,” the first female composer honored since Anne Dudley’s 1997 win for Original Musical or Comedy Score for “The Full Monty.”

sigourney weaver gal gadot brie larson

Guðnadóttir praised director Todd Phillips who “listened to me the whole way,” and urged other women to “Speak up — we need to hear your voices.”

But mostly you could not miss the audience leaping to its feet every time Bong Joon Ho was called to the podium and by the end of the night, even he looked practically shell-shocked.

It recalled the year 2017 when “Moonlight” confounded the expectations that a feel-good movie about Hollywood itself, “La La Land,” was supposed to win but didn’t. “Parasite” was the movie that should have won, but wasn’t going to in the end.

At the Governors Ball after the ceremony, the warm “we did it” feeling extended among Academy voters eating their Oscar-shaped smoked salmon canapes and tofu small plates. Influential members from producer Mark Johnson to former AMPAS president Sid Ganis said they were thrilled with the outcome. If there was grumbling on the part of the “1917” crew — the movie favored to win Best Picture — I didn’t hear it.

Cultural politics aside, “Parasite” allowed Hollywood to sidestep the internal strife over Netflix versus the major studios. Coming from a small indie studio, Neon, with the backing of a Korean mogul in Miky Lee, “Parasite” lacked the industry baggage that came with a Netflix nominee, which “Roma” was.

As for how much of this change will stick remains to be seen. But as the Academy grows year by year by 600 members or so with an emphasis on greater inclusion, it’s a sign of the times.

For the record: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that “Joker” composer Hildur Guðnadóttir was the first woman to win Best Original Score.