A Total Banger: 95th Academy Awards a Huge Win for the AAPI Community
- Hopefully, this is just the beginning of what will be the norm moving forward — films with narratives that represent the global community.
Oscars night 2023. It was the first Oscars night in a long while where the art and artists received the spotlight they so deserve. And the 95th Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles was a huge night for the AAPI community.
M.M. Keeravaani and Chandrabose won the Oscar for Best Original Song for “Naatu Naatu,” from “RRR,” and marked a first for Indian composers everywhere. Keeravani began his acceptance speech with, “I grew up listening to the Carpenters…” and then he continued to endearingly sing the rest of his speech with sweet melody and levity. What is also so remarkable for many of us is that this film is not “Bollywood,” it is “Tollywood,” and is in the Telegu language from South India. As filmstar, Ram Charan, put out into the world, “This award belongs to every Indian actor, technician, and filmgoer. My heartfelt thanks to all the fans across the world for all the love and support. This is our country’s win.”
Another deeply poignant win for Desi’s everywhere was when director Kartiki Gonsalves and producer Guneet Monga took the stage to accept the Oscar for Short Subject Documentary for their brave and moving film, “The Elephant Whisperers.” To see two Indian women centered on the Oscar stage to receive the first Academy Award ever awarded for an Indian film was a triumph for all. And Gonsalves acceptance speech, delivered with stillness, strength and honesty are just the words our struggling world needs right now. “I stand here today to speak on the sacred bond between us and our natural world. For the respect of indigenous communities. For entity towards other living beings, we share our space with. And finally for coexistence.”
Her voice resonated with a deep call to action for all of us to honor indigenous people, prioritize all living beings, and what it means to peaceably coexist. I was left wanting to have heard what Guneet Monga wanted to share in that moment, but the Academy started playing the music to move them off stage right after Gonsalves spoke.
But the Academy did give us much more this year overall than expected. All 23 categories were back for us to enjoy. Jimmy Kimmel kept the show moving with humor that felt inclusive and in good jest. And, according to ABC’s press release, this year’s award show brought in an average audience of 18.7 million viewers and scored a 4.0 rating among adults 18 to 49. That means ratings have been increasing over the past three years, as well as outdoing the viewership of the Grammy’s, Emmy’s, and Golden Globes this year.
We also witnessed stellar musical performances. Lady Gaga, who performed a stripped-down version of the Oscar-nominated song, “Hold my Hand,” from Top Gun, moved us before she sang with her words “…You might find that you can be your own hero, even if you feel broken inside.”
And a majestic and pregnant Rihanna with the ethereal sounds of the chorus and live instruments behind her, stunned us, with the Oscar-nominated song, “Lift me Up,” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” dedicated to the late Chadwick Boseman, the star of the original “Black Panther.” This was one of the most powerful moments of the night.
And of course, there was the show-stopping number, “Naatu Naatu,” that danced its way into the hearts of many. It was introduced as a “total banger,” to the audience by beloved Indian actress, Deepika Padukone. Singers Rahul Sipliginj and Kaala Bhairava and all the dancers didn’t miss a beat and kept the audience cheering.
The dance number, choreographed for the Oscars by Napolean & Tabitha Dumo that honored the film version left many of us wanting more when it came to casting. Many are asking why was there not more South Asian representation on stage. And if they chose to honor the casting in the movie it still doesn’t explain why an Indian choreographer was not chosen for this moment in Oscar history.
Speaking of Oscar history, “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” swept the Academy Awards by taking home seven Oscars (it was nominated for 11). This is incredibly significant for an arthouse film. Michelle Yeoh became the first actress of Asian descent to win an Oscar for best actress. And, when Halle Berry was there to present the award, it was hard not to be reminded of the fact that Berry and Yeoh are the only two women of color to win in this category in 95 years.
Ke Huy Quan moved us to tears with his acceptance speech that began with proclaiming to his 84-year-old mother, “Mom. I just won an Oscar.” He then presented his journey on a boat, to a refugee camp as a child, and stated that “this is the American Dream,” referring to his route to standing on Hollywood’s biggest stage. He gave the spotlight to his wife, Echo, who has supported him over the years and implored all of us to “please keep your dreams alive.”
“Everything Everywhere All At Once” also won, the best picture, original screenplay, directing, film editing, and best supporting actress, with Jamie Lee Curtis bringing home an Oscar for the unstoppable team, as well.
An unbelievable and unprecedented night for the AAPI community, the 95th Oscars are hopefully the beginning of what will be the norm moving forward-films with narratives that represent the global community we are and an awards ceremony that serves up the visibility and recognition of the people of the global majority deserve.
Minita Gandhi (she/they) is a Los Angeles-based multi-hyphenate. They love magic realism, dark comedy and exploring multi-genre, multi-cultural, and multi-generational stories as a medium for healing. They are a 2022 NYSAF Pfaelzer Award finalist, and currently working on an opera commission as a member of Minnesota Opera Company’s New Works cohort. Minita just finished her writing residency with The Ground Floor at Berkeley Repertory Theatre where she began to develop their newest play, Nerve. Nerve was developed in collaboration with the playwright’s mother, Jyotsna Gandhi. Gandhi is also the lyricist for Rising Tide, a choral-orchestral piece on climate change activism composed by Emmy-award-winning composer, Jonathan Beard. The piece was showcased at the 2022 AGU Conference.