The Screen Actors Guild Awards literally saved the best for last (and also because it was alphabetical) when “Parasite” was unveiled as the final nominee in the final category, film ensemble, last week. It was one of the most exciting and inspired surprises in a while, and the film, which was in 11th place in our odds, is just the second foreign language nominee in the category after “Life Is Beautiful” (1998). And yes, it can totally be the first to win.
1. The passion is there
It really cannot be overstated what a massive coup it was for “Parasite” to make the ensemble cut. The reason it was so low in our odds and very few were prognosticating a bid is because the SAG Awards rarely nominates foreign language films, especially since the merger with AFTRA in 2012. SAG-AFTRA’s taste runs more populist and broad than high-brow and artsy — or even idiosyncratic like the Golden Globes — so the fact that a Korean-language film made it just shows how much people are absolutely loving it. On top of that, it overcame late-arriving screeners, so either (most of) the nominating committee had made an effort to see it already or they immediately watched it once they got the screener.
People are here for “Parasite” when they weren’t (as much) for “Roma” last year, and that film had more advantages in theory: a revered Oscar-winning director, Alfonso Cuaron, who also served as DP; the deep, never-ending pockets of Netflix — the favorite streaming service of SAG-AFTRA — and being in a language, Spanish, that’s more familiar to most Americans (Spanish is the most common language taught in school; Korean is not in the top 10). “Roma” also had a lot more Oscar heat than “Parasite,” which is now indisputably in the top three for Best Picture, did at the time of SAG nominations, but not even that was enough to carry it to an ensemble bid.
2. The nomination will pique more interest and curiosity
“Parasite’s” buzz and momentum has only increased since its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, where it became the first Korean film to win the Palme d’Or — and with a unanimous vote to boot. It’s already made $20 million at the domestic box office and is on the verge of cracking the top 10 highest-grossing foreign language films in the U.S. With the unexpected ensemble bid turning heads, you can bet anyone (ahem, a voter) who hasn’t seen it yet will make it a priority to watch it. No one likes FOMO. And if they adore it as much as everyone else does, chances are they’ll vote for it.
Personally speaking, some of my friends who are not in the business at all, couldn’t tell you what won Best Picture last year (maybe that’s a good thing) and consume pop culture a normal amount had repeatedly said this fall how much they wanted to see “Parasite” because of the buzz and word of mouth. And friends of friends I’ve just met in the past few weeks have said the same. They were not clamoring to see “Roma” last year, which was and still is readily available to them. “Parasite” has seeped into the public consciousness in a way few foreign language films have.
3. It’s a crowd-pleaser
Not to dump on “Roma” more, but one of the “complaints” about it was that it was “boring.” Whether you love “Parasite” or not, no one would ever accuse it of being boring. It does not, after all, open with five minutes of someone mopping a floor (no disrespect, “Roma,” you’re a great movie!). Bong Joon Ho‘s scintillating class satire instantly hooks you in and tightens its grip on you with every plot turn as the Kim family ingratiates themselves into the Parks’ lives. “Parasite” is highly entertaining and inspires tons of reactions from the audience: you laugh, you grimace, you gasp, you sigh, you get angry, you sympathize, and you’re on the edge of your seat throughout. It’s a movie that plays well with everyone and is connecting with the average moviegoer, not just cineastes and critics; that goes a long way with a large, broad body like SAG-AFTRA, whose membership, lest we forget, now includes broadcasters, DJs, weathermen, anchors, recording artists and other media professionals, not just actors.
4. It has a true ensemble
Of the five cast nominees and with “Knives Out” egregiously snubbed, “Parasite” is the only one that fits the definition of ensemble acting and makes the best use of its entire cast. It doesn’t have the biggest cast, but the story is focused on two families, and they all interact with each other, often in one tight setting.
Contrast that with “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” where Leonardo DiCaprio never sets foot on Spahn Ranch and likewise, Brad Pitt never steps onto the “Lancer” set after playing chauffeur. Even “Bombshell” is misleading because while the film is teeming with recognizable faces, most of them amount to cameos, and the credited ensemble is just eight actors because of the SAG Awards’ single title card rule. The three leading ladies of “Bombshell” — Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie — hardly interact with each other, each preoccupied with her own storyline. “The Irishman” and “Jojo Rabbit” are all about their title characters, while everyone else comes in and out of their lives and stories as necessary.
5. It’s the only POC nominee
The SAG Awards is the most socially conscious of the awards groups — two of its last three ensemble winners featured predominantly black casts, “Hidden Figures” (2016) and “Black Panther” (2018). In a way, getting the nomination was the hardest part for “Parasite” because SAG-AFTRA would definitely be the most willing to embrace diversity and anoint it with a win. It’d be the the second Asian cast to win after “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) and the first East Asian cast to do so.
6. It’s the underdog
This sounds weird to say when we know “Parasite” is top three in the Oscar race, but you’re always an underdog when you’re a foreign language film. And who doesn’t love rooting for the underdog? On paper, “Parasite” seems like no match for “Bombshell,” “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” each filled with big names, some outright legends. And the SAG Awards often gravitates towards the starriest cast. “Parasite” stars Korean actors — Cho Yeo Jeong, Choi Woo Shik, Chang Hyae Jin, Jung Hyeon Jun, Jung Ziso, Lee Jung Eun, Lee Sun Kyun, Park Myung Hoon, Park So Dam and Song Kang Ho — most Americans have never heard of, but this is a chance for David to beat a Goliath.
With ensemble being the only category in which “Parasite” is nominated, the entire #BongHive can pool its support there (the film would join 1997’s “The Full Monty,” 2003’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” and “Black Panther” as ensemble winners without individual acting bids). And lest you think a cast of unknowns can’t take down a bunch of A-listers, that’s exactly what the cast of “Slumdog Millionaire” — full of Indian actors, many of whom were children — did when it defeated the likes of Pitt and Cate Blanchett (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) and Meryl Streep (“Doubt”) that year.
“Parasite” is currently in second place in our early odds, behind “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” “The Irishman” is third, followed by “Bombshell” and “Jojo Rabbit.”
Be sure to make your SAG Awards film winners predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before the ceremony on January 19. And join in the fun debate over the 2020 SAG Awards taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.