This story was updated Feb. 10 at 10:43 p.m.
History has repeated itself in the 2020 Oscars.
Since 2006, the winner of Best Director has also taken home the Oscar for Best Picture. This year was no different – except both awards went to a foreign film.
The 92nd Academy Awards, which took place Sunday night, was filled to the brim with memorable quips and heartfelt acceptance speeches both on and off stage. However, the standing ovation was earned when Bong Joon-ho followed Alfonso Cuarón as the second director to win Best Director for a non-English-language film. Bong’s place in history was further cemented with “Parasite” becoming the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture at the local awards show. But from Janelle Monáe’s opening performance to presenters like Gal Gadot, Brie Larson and Sigourney Weaver, it was the work of women that was championed throughout the show.
“All women are superheroes,” Weaver said. “And for the first time in the 92-year history of the Academy Awards, a female conductor is leading the orchestra.”
However, before Weaver’s tribute to Eimear Boone, the night began with Brad Pitt winning the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, later setting the tone for the night with a subtle political reference inserted into his acceptance speech. Pitt was later asked about having a speech writer, but he said that for him acceptance speeches must come from the heart. Therefore, he was unwilling to overlook the moments when gamesmanship trumps doing what’s right.
From there, the night slid into motion as artists from across the categories spoke passionately of the importance of telling timely stories. Alumnus Matthew A. Cherry said he saw his chance to tell such a story as he reflected on his Oscar win for the animated short film “Hair Love” backstage. Co-creator Karen Rupert Toliver stood beside him and said the policing of black hair was the equivalent of policing the black community, while Cherry said he felt that it was his responsibility to change the narrative.
“The thing about ‘Hair Love’ is that it was born of wanting to flip the gender norm that exists,” Cherry said. “This film is a chance for (the black community) to see (itself).”
Artists throughout the night continued to echo the message that they hope their films might carry beyond the golden trophy as awards were listed one after another from animations to screenplays. Taika Waititi, winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, said “Jojo Rabbit” was a response to the resurgence of hate speech in today’s society.
Yet the strongest moments for the end of Hollywood’s Awards season is split between the solidarity found between female artists – nominees and winners alike – and Bong’s historic wins for Best Director and for Picture. But prior to Bong’s historic moment, Joaquin Phoenix took the win for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and utilized his few seconds on the Oscar stage to repeat the sentiments he made at the British Academy Film Awards. Phoenix reminded those watching that all those in the Dolby Theater have the opportunity to use their voices for the voiceless.
“At times we’re made to feel like we’re championing different causes, but for me I see commonality,” Phoenix said. “Whether we’re talking about gender inequality, racism, queer rights, indigenous rights, animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against inequality.”
For winners like Julia Reichert and alumna Laura Dern, the fight for gender equality starts with sisterhood, Reichert said as the winner for Best Documentary Feature. When Reichert came to the Oscars in 1977, it was a sea of white men, she said, which only changed as women supported each other, breaking the boundaries set by the patriarchy. Dern echoed similar sentiments as she encouraged women to stay true to their inner voice.
“When we say, ‘Use our voice,’ we are talking about us, each other, in whatever industry we are in,” Dern said. “That’s the biggest shift we’ve seen in the last couple of years is that voices matter, and a community of voices rallying around the truth really matter – in journalism, in this industry and in many others.”
The entertainment industry saw it’s largest shift Sunday night as it diverged from its usual predictable path, with Bong winning Best Director and Picture. As only the second director to win Best Director for a non-English-language film, Bong commented throughout the show how shocked he was to win any Oscar at all. Bong attributes his Director win to Martin Scorsese, even joking that he’ll be drinking the rest of the night away.
But Bong walked the Oscar stage time and time again, and by the end of the Academy Awards, the Dolby Theater erupted in cheers as the Academy finally seems to have overcome the one-inch, on-screen barrier – something Bong said he hopes is a lasting effect.
“During the Golden Globes, I mentioned the one-inch barrier of subtitles, but I feel like that was already a little late,” Bong said. “People were already overcoming these barriers. I think naturally we will come to a day when a foreign-language film winning this won’t be much of an issue.”