Squid Game: Netflix’s Global Hit and the Awards Season

Squid Game is poised to make history: The breakout Netflix hit has become a frontrunner in a most competitive TV awards season.

Squid Game Netflix

On Netflix’s Korean thriller, the fictional contestants compete in life-or-death grudge matches from red light, green light to tug of war.

Squid Game already earned its first U.S. honor in late November, when the Gotham Awards named it this year’s breakthrough long – form series — beating contenders including HBO’s “The White Lotus,” Showtime’s “The Good Lord Bird” and Amazon Prime Video’s “The Underground Railroad.”

Netflix is positioning the series to enter the major TV awards shows and dominate in perhaps the same way another film from South Korea, Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, picked up kudos all the way to the Best Picture Oscar in 2020.

Until this year non-English projects have never won–or have been nominated in–a major category at the SAG Awards, Golden Globes, or the Primetime Emmys. But there’s never been a phenom quite like Squid Game in American TV.

Squid Game dominated the fall TV conversation, leading Netflix’s Top 10 chart in the U.S. for 24 days and hitting No. 1 in 94 territories.

It’s the most-watched series globally in Netflix history pulling in 1.65 billion hours of viewing in the 28 days since its September 17 premiere.

Hwang and stars Lee Jung-jae (who plays Gi-hun), Park Hae-soo (Sang-woo) and Jung Ho-yeon (Sae-byeok) have already been making the promotional rounds, appearing on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” hitting the red carpet in Los Angeles and participating in media junkets as a bit of a victory tour.

“When I first heard that it ranked No. 1 in the United States, I was asking myself, ‘Is this for real? Am I dreaming?’” Hwang tells Variety. “It’s just amazing to think that something I created when I was in my darkest times, has become the biggest show.”

Besides the Gotham, “Squid Game” already won a People’s Choice Award and was nominated in multiple categories at the 2022 Critics Choice Awards and at the 2022 Golden Globes. And just as “Parasite” won the SAG Award for motion picture ensemble two years ago, “Squid Game” could at least earn a nom for its cast in the drama series ensemble race.

“Squid Game” has a leg up because although it’s a local Korean production, it’s produced by Netflix — a U.S. company.

The stage is set for the eventual non-English TV awards entrant in recent years as streamers made it easier to access overseas programming. According to Bajaria, non-English language viewing on Netflix has grown 71% since 2018, and U.S. viewing of Korean dramas is up 200%.

“I was very glad to hear many people telling me that they watched it with subtitles and not the dubbed version,” Hwang says. “Maybe the ‘one-inch [subtitles] barrier’ that director Bong talked about has now finally really come down. I am very proud to have played a role in that. I really hope that this serves as an opportunity or a beginning point for stories all around the world to be shared and enjoyed by people all around the world.”

And now Bajaria says she feels “this is the moment” for “Squid Game” to help break down the foreign-language awards barrier in the U.S.

“We couldn’t really imagine they would be competing on the U.S. awards with this series,” she says. “But now it’s possible. That is what gets me up in the morning. When we think about excellence in storytelling for the Emmys, to me, the show has all of those things. I love the representation, I love the momentum, the cultural zeitgeist of this show in Korean taking over in the way it did.”