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Parasite makes Oscar history

It is the first non-English language film to win Best Picture

"I'm so proud to stand here as a black queer artist telling stories." - Janelle Monáe, before launching into a jazzy song- and-dance number

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 (Monday morning, Singapore time), 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 over-reliance 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 theatres.

"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 colour for Oscars - two years in a row - its leaders vowed to double minority membership by 2020.

Importance of inclusion

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 Guðnadóttir said as she collected the Oscar for best score for Joker. Her Oscar ended the academy's 22-year streak of honouring male composers.

In honouring 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 theatres with its films. Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, relentlessly hyped by Netflix as one of the best films of the decade, was shut out.

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 a total of 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 clinched 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).

He 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 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.

Best-picture anomalies

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 have been 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 the 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.

Parasite also 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. NYTIMES

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