Squid Game ran away with three SAG Awards Sunday night, making it the most-awarded media of the entire show. Lead actors Lee Jung-jae and Jung Ho-yeon won for their individual performances, and the ensemble stunt work in the show also snagged an Actor.
The Screen Actors Guild annual awards show exists as a union-backed show which highlights outstanding achievements in acting. The SAG awards are voted on by 2100 randomly-selected members of the SAG-AFTRA union, and Actor wins are generally considered an indicator of Academy Award winners, announced at the end of March.
CODA came through as an underdog winner in the film category, making history as the first d/Deaf and disabled cast to get nominated. CODA actor Troy Kotsur won the first best supporting actor award, the first Actor awarded to a deaf person, ever, not just in an individual category.
And then, Squid Game came up and won…three times. Which is pretty remarkable because the makeup of SAG-AFTRA is primarily U.S.-based, and the flashy, ultra-violent, and deeply Korean production might not have hit with the majority of the voters. In fact, Squid Game is the first Korean television show and the first foreign-language series to win Actors at the SAG awards. The fact that Squid Game not only won, but won big, marks yet another turning point among voting audiences.
The door that Bong Joon-ho opened with Parasite’s historic Best Feature win at the Academy Awards in 2021 has truly been knocked down, as Korean films establish themselves as media contenders, cementing South Korean cultural imports as mainstays of the future. I mean, most Zoomers or Millennials out there have at least heard of BTS.
But just because Squid Game won, doesn’t mean that there’s going to be a new surge of K-Drama entries into U.S-based awards shows. Netflix was able to enter Squid Game into the union’s awards show because they funded a significant portion of the show, and then handed over creative control to creator Hwang Dong-hyuk, who crafted a deeply Korean masterpiece. However, it’s because of Netflix’s involvement that Squid Game falls into an in-between area where it is both a domestically funded and internationally produced film, making it eligible for both the domestic and international Emmys. (But as Variety reports, double-dipping rules prevent it from entering to win both awards.)
It’ll be worth watching how Netflix handles awards for All of Us Are Dead, its newest hyperviolent, critically-acclaimed K-Drama, later in the year. While it hasn’t reached the kind of impact that Squid Game has (a tall order, considering Squid Game is the most watched Netflix show of all time,) All of Us Are Dead will be a better indicator of how K-Dramas will present themselves at American awards shows.
Regardless, Squid Game has proven that there is a desire for international–and specifically Korean–sensibilities in television. And considering that both Lee Jung-jae and Jung Ho-yeon were matched up against the actors of Succession, a powerful dramatic contender that showcased the failings of the American dream through gritty realism and backroom politics, it seems like there is room across the board for more diverse and absurdist stories in the American media landscape.