Inside the Oscar Ceremony, Hollywood Finally Noticed the World

13 March 2023

Three years after “Parasite” became the first non-English-language movie to win Best Picture, the Oscars went international across many categories, and turned the ceremony into a global village. The evening reflected an awards season and industry where Hollywood matters more as a portal and less as a source. Not everyone is happy about this — on Facebook, Paul Schrader groused about “the scramble to be woke” and a loss of the ceremony’s “provincial” origins — but that’s selective memory: Hollywood is the invention of immigrants.

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” made the most noise, but one of the biggest historical achievements was played off the stage. In the acceptance speech for documentary short film “The Elephant Whisperers,” producer Guneet Monga yelled into the microphone that her movie was the first Indian production to win an Oscar. The front row, filled with A-listers, heard her and cheered; everyone at home heard a blaring orchestra.

“I planned to say that Indian history has had 100 years of great movies,” Monga told IndieWire at the Governors Ball after the show, flanked by director Kartiki Gonsalves, “but tonight we were celebrating two women.” Later, she shared her full remarks. “This is the first-ever Oscar an Indian production,” she planned to say, adding, “1.4 billion Indians, this is for you. We have all manifested this together.”

Though five Indians had won Oscars before — including an honorary prize for Satyajit Ray — the win for the Tamil-language short about an elephant sanctuary provided a significant reminder of the Oscars’ global impact well beyond the category of Best International Feature Film. (It was underscored later that night, when Tollywood sensation “RRR” won Best Original Song.)

For Monga, the night served as karmic justice after “The Lunchbox,” a surprise Indian hit in the U.S. that she produced 10 years ago, failed to make the cut as India’s Oscar submission. She wasn’t giving up on her home country or its tongue. “The films I do in this language seem to travel,” she said, but added that she hoped to develop a project similar to 2016’s “Lion” with Indian actors speaking English. “I have the script, so we’ll see,” she said.

“The Elephant Whisperers” victory was cheered on from a watch party in India, where cohorts got up at 5 a.m. to watch the ceremony. Meanwhile, in Italy, some 300 people crammed into a screening at the film archive Cineteca di Bologna to cheer on Best Live Action short film nominee Alice Rohrwacher, the acclaimed filmmaker whose Catholic school charmer “Le Pupille” was nominated.

Sitting outside the Dolby theater with her father before the show began, Rohrwacher blushed just thinking about it. “I said, ‘Guys I’m not going to win,’” she explained. “‘Don’t do this!’” Her mind was already turning to her next feature, “La Chimera,” that stars British actor Josh O’Connor as an archeologist but has him speaking Italian throughout. “He speaks it perfectly!” she said with a grin.

Rohrwacher’s prediction turned out to be true — but “Le Pupille” lost in a category exclusively populated by non-American shorts. As the business of movies contracts, global achievements stood out.

“All Quiet on the Western Front”

Courtesy of Netflix

While German war epic “All Quiet on the Western Front” was the sole non-English language movie nominated for Best Picture, it wasn’t the only non-American one in the category. “Triangle of Sadness,” the delicious social satire that garnered widespread Hollywood fans months after its Palme d’Or win, was a co-production from Swedish auteur Ruben Ostlund that just happened to be in English.

At a Sunset Marquis party hosted by the Swedish Film Institute a few days before the Oscars, the institute’s international manager Theo Tsappos insisted that “Triangle of Sadness” was still Swedish. “We think of that in terms of cultural impact, not language,” he said. Ostlund himself, standing nearby, disagreed. “Triangle of Sadness” was shot in Greece with financing that included everything from German to Canadian money in addition to the U.S. “In a way,” he said, “we are more of an international film than ‘All Quiet on the Western Front.’”

International influence encompassed the Best Picture winner as well.”Everything Everywhere All at Once” opens with subtitles in Mandarin and Cantonese that stick around for much of the movie as its multiverse saga addresses the nuances of a first-generation Asian American household. At a Vanity Fair party in Beverly Hills two days before the show, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” co-director Daniel Scheinert and producer Jonathan Wang estimated that 25 percent of the movie was in Chinese dialect. Realizing the implications after spending months in campaign mode, Scheinert smiled. “Hey, maybe we could’ve been nominated for one of those international Oscars, too!” he said.

“Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Allyson Riggs /© A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection

It was a half-hearted joke by an exhausted filmmaker, but underscored the sense that movies have a greater international footprint than ever before.”Top Gun: Maverick” doesn’t name the nationality of its villains, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” has African superheroes, and “Avatar: The Way of Water” revolves around indigenous tribes on an imaginary planet. American cinema looks awfully small in the larger picture of the way movies operate as global products.

The Oscars may be fighting for relevance, but the fierce competition for their attention speaks to their global impact. The Best International Feature Film category saw 92 submissions from six continents this year, all jockeying for five slots. At a panel hosted by the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures over the weekend, International Feature Film Award executive committee co-chair Susanne Bier singled out the challenge. “We’re in a world right now where everything is so accessible in English,” she said. “To make movies in other languages, you immediately mirror a different culture.”

That observation led 84-year-old Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski to perk up as he recalled his nearly wordless animal odyssey “EO,” which stars a braying wanderer. “I had a much easier time,” he deadpanned, “because all the donkeys in the world speak exactly the same language.”

The international category has never faced greater scrutiny about its boundaries, from its linguistic rules (movies have to be at least 50 percent in a language other than English) to the ones limiting each country to one submission. Even the Oscar show producers seemed a bit unclear about the category when “All Quiet on the Western Front” took the prize as presenter Salma Hayek read off an envelope and announced that director Edward Berger had won. In truth, no single person won that Oscar; the Best International Feature film, unlike any other Oscar category, goes to the country. It belongs now to Germany.

That left the movie’s sole non-German producer, Brazilian Daniel Marc Dreifus, in a complicated mood. At the Dolby theater’s bar, he said he had been told that only German producers would be allowed onstage if the movie won; as if the underscore that point, he had been given a seat in the upper mezzanine. “Of course they sent the one Jew to the balcony,” he said, then clarified it was a joke. “OK, so they get to go onstage tonight, but tomorrow, this will help me finance projects,” he said.

A few minutes earlier, Rohrwacher stood with director Darren Aronofsky watching the TV screen as the Best International Feature Film winner was announced. “Hey, it’s your category!” Aronofsky said. Rohrwacher shook her head. “No, I was in the shorts one,” she replied. Aronofksy stammered. “But, I mean, normally,” he said. “You’ve been nominated before, right?” She shook her head again. “No, with Italy, it’s very difficult,” she said, noting the competitiveness in the country to be the official submission.

As “All Quiet” won, champagne glasses clinked at the bar. “Wait,” one woman said. “Wasn’t that movie in English?”

The answer depends on the viewer. The success of “All Quiet” speaks to Netflix’s vast global footprint and its ability to push audiences to watch international content. However, sources tell IndieWire that some 70 percent of Netflix viewers outside of Germany watched the movie with foreign-language dubs. Movies may export globally, but subtitles remain a stigma.

Another nominee from that category, Argentinean director Santiago Mitre, wandered out to the bar after his loss. His movie, the courtroom drama “Argentina 1985,” was a commercial hit in his country and released around the world by Amazon Studios. However, after directing five features in Spanish, he was finally trying to get an English-language project off the ground. “I don’t want to sell out,” he said, “but I need to make money, man.”

At the Governors Ball, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro grinned from a couch as he gripped his Oscar for “Pinocchio,” beaming alongside wife Kim Morgan about their plans to go antique shopping later in the week. His cohort Alfonso Cuarón, an executive producer on “Le Pupille,” swung by and embraced him. Back in 2007, the two men and their “Three Amigos” cohort Alejandro G. Iñarrituo were all nominated for different projects; now, they’re elder statesmen of the Oscars’ international identity.

Guillermo del Toro

Getty Images

These days, the international category can feel small even to the countries in competition. Outside the Governors Ball, 27-year-old Austrian actor Felix Kammerer of “All Quiet on the Western Front” said he hadn’t heard much about viewing parties back home. “I don’t think they’re celebrating that much in Austria and Germany,” he said. “It was a weird thing with the international films this year.” He got yanked away by a publicist before he could clarify, but was likely referring to the movie’s loss in the Best Picture category, since the big kahuna is no longer seen as an exclusive American domain.

Even the big winner of the night bought its way into the international game. When A24 picked up the Belgian tearjerker “Close” back at Cannes, there were whispers of its potential to crack Best Picture. It ended up only nominated for Best International Feature, which it lost; whether or not the company continues to pursue non-English films, its own global ambitions are just getting started. At the the company’s after party at Soho House, word circulated about A24’s plans to distribute more films in foreign territories. Even the hippest American film company has its sights on foreign shores.

As Soho House filled up with boisterous well-wishers, bleary-eyed “Everything Everywhere All at Once” co-director Dan Kwan retreated to a quieter room and grabbed some desserts. “I haven’t slept in two days,” he said. “I’m so excited to never have to think about this movie again.”

As the dance floor filled and music blared well past 2 a.m., Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh received a surprising well-wisher with the arrival of Academy president Janet Yang. The veteran producer had received some blowback earlier in the season for apparent bias when she posted appreciative words about Yeoh on Facebook that she later deleted. But Yang, it seemed, couldn’t help herself.

A child of Chinese immigrants like the antihero of “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Yang’s own career reflects Oscar season’s international identity. By the political standards of the Academy, her appearance may have been the wrong move; in a broader context, it felt just right – and echoed a line from Best Supporting Actor winner Ke Huy Quan earlier in the night: “This is the American dream.”

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