• Thursday, Feb 27, 2020
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The elite South Korean businesswoman behind Oscar-winning Parasite

  • Published at 08:29 pm February 13th, 2020
Parasite
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Miky Lee, an heiress turned media mogul, is the executive producer of the first non-English-language film to secure the Academy Awards' top prize in their 92-year history

The woman who stepped up to make the final acceptance speech when Bong Joon-ho's satire Parasite -– about the gap between rich and poor –- won the Oscar for Best Picture is herself a member of South Korea's wealthiest family.

Miky Lee, an heiress turned media mogul, is the executive producer of the first non-English-language film to secure the Academy Awards' top prize in their 92-year history.

The film has been praised at home and abroad for its critique of inequality, but Lee is the granddaughter of Lee Byung-chul, the founder of the giant Samsung group -- by far the largest of the family-controlled, often-controversial conglomerates known as chaebol that dominate business in the world's 12th-largest economy. 

She is the vice chairwoman of the CJ Group, a food and entertainment giant that was spun out of Samsung in the 1990s as the empire was divided between different arms of the family.

Miky Lee has been secretly blacklisted by Park's conservative government after she invested in a film based on the life of left-leaning president Roh Moo-hyun.

A diminutive Harvard graduate, she is known as a cinematic connoisseur, with previous collaborations with Bong including "Memories of Murder" (2003), "Mother" (2009), and the Tilda Swinton-starring "Snowpiercer" (2013). 

Among those she praised in her Oscars speech, she also thanked her brother, the CJ chairman Lee Jay-Hyun - a controversial figure who was convicted in 2014 on charges ranging from embezzlement to tax evasion.

Her address "ultimately made for a very meta ending to Parasite's award season," said Keung Yoon Bae, a PhD candidate researching film and media at Harvard University. 

DreamWorks deal

The unprecedented Oscars haul for "Parasite" is the culmination of a corporate push into Hollywood that Lee has spearheaded for years.

In 1995 she invested $300 million in the DreamWorks studio as it was set up by Hollywood heavyweights including Steven Spielberg.

She is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the powerful organisation that awards the Oscars, and has connections throughout show-business in the US, where she moved after her blacklisting.

Lee supervises CJ ENM, one of the South's biggest media groups. South Korean reports say the firm spent $8.5 million on an Oscar campaign for "Parasite." 

So-Rim Lee of the University of Pennsylvania pointed out that none of the Oscar acceptance speeches, including Bong's, raised "the actual social issues they purport to address through the film".