A few weeks ago, I received a mysterious email from a Netflix publicist. “Where are you going to be on Monday?” they asked. “I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but we have a couple of specific people delivering something. I know, it’s super vague.”
Those “specific people” showed up at the Variety offices in costume as the mysterious guards (aka “pink soldiers”) from “Squid Game,” complete with iconic circle/triangle/square masks. They came bearing an invitation to Netflix’s FYSee Emmy events space at Raleigh Studios, along with a box of donuts.
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The brutal South Korean drama about class, power, wealth and kiddie games clearly remains an awards priority for the streamer — particularly after this year’s SAG Awards garnered wins including male actor (Lee Jung-Jae) and female actor (Jung Ho-yeon). Lee also won the Independent Spirit Award for male performance in a new scripted series, and drama actor at the Critics Choice Awards. (Additionally, O Yeong-su won at this year’s untelevised Golden Globes for supporting actor in a drama.)
In almost every instance, “Squid Game” has made history. For the Globes, O was the first Korean-born actor to win the award. And at the SAG Awards, “Squid Game” was the first non-English series to win, or even be nominated, for the prize. Quite a change from the days when the idea of any language other than English, let alone subtitles, were considered non-starters in TV. Remember when it was such a big deal that Jin and Sun were allowed to speak Korean on “Lost”?
In some cases, the languages weren’t even subtitled — better to build anxiety for viewers who don’t quite know what’s going on, and instead have to rely on body language and tone of voice.
Of course, it’s the streaming revolution that finally made it much easier for audiences to find non-English fare (rather than hunting for it on PBS stations, indie broadcasters or small cable channels).
And it’s also the streaming revolution that suddenly made some international, non-English productions eligible for Primetime Emmys. Until recently, most shows hailing from overseas were very specifically sent to the Intl. Emmy Awards for competition. And it was pretty clear what was eligible, given that English-language U.S. networks weren’t in the business of airing non-English fare. But the streamers are global, which means these American companies doing local productions in international territories are still able to be entered into the Primetime Emmy competition.
“Any production produced in the U.S. in a language other than English, is eligible in the Primetime Emmys,” this year’s rules stipulate. Besides “Squid Game,” this year’s contenders featuring languages other than English include comedy “Acapulco” and dramas “Pachinko,” “Tehran” and “Lupin.”
The “Squid Game” frenzy has obviously died down in recent months after its run as a phenomenon last fall — but Netflix is hoping that the same kind of thirst for making history that helped turn “Parasite” into an Oscar winner might push the show back into the conversation. It’s already a contender, with another show from last fall — Season 3 of HBO’s “Succession” — its most formidable competitor.
Will “Squid Game” become the first Emmy-winning non-English drama, or will its stars repeat their winter awards seasons wins? Don’t mess with those pink soldiers.
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