- As an immigrant from India, I have a first-hand experience of the kind of opportunities Hollywood was giving to South Asians in front and behind the camera – until the recent tectonic shift of content being produced and viewed on digital streaming platforms.
In the last six months or so, leading up to the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday, March 27, there has been a surge of South Asian visibility in the entertainment space.
Shondaland’s “Bridgerton” Season 2 on Netflix, which premiered on March 25, has two British-Indian actresses leading the cast. Both the production company and the streamer have not spared any media space during these months, to promote Simone Ashley and Charithra Chandran. Netflix brought together diverse tastemakers to celebrate the launch of “Bridgerton” and South Asian culture with the lead Simone Ashley at Arth Bar & Kitchen in Culver City, Los Angeles. Hosted by Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Versha Sharma, the dinner event showcased a South Asian influenced culinary experience and conversations about cultural appreciation, and how diversity in entertainment can serve as inspiration and connection for society.
Per Hollywood Reporter, a pre-Oscar celebration hosted by UTA and Priyanka Chopra-Jonas, Riz Ahmed, Mindy Kaling, Kumail Nanjiani, Bela Bajaria, Anjula Acharia, honoring the South Asian nominated films at the 94th Oscars – a historical moment in itself – affirmed that South Asian Hollywood was officially announced to Hollywood and the rest of the international entertainment community. Calling the event “South Asian Excellence,” it toasted the nominees of these outstanding films that told stories from the Indian subcontinent and the diaspora – authentically – by South Asians.
Mindy Kaling has been a trailblazer for South Asians in entertainment – what with her blockbuster TV series, “The Mindy Project” on Fox, and then Hulu – by firmly shifting the spotlight on South Asian creators and having Hollywood take our tribe very seriously. Mindy’s vision has always been the big picture. And with that single focus, she paved the way for all of us. Her Netflix series “Never Have I Ever” etched a place for her in entertainment history and also made stars out of its South Asian leads – Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Poorna Jagannathan, and Richa Moorjani.
Deadline reported that last weekend’s massive U.S. theatrical opening of the Indian film “RRR” at around $10 million – a first for any Indian film released stateside – is evidence of the fast-growing influence of South Asian-driven content. Deadline also reported that the film has had an astounding $60 million worldwide theatrical opening.
Soman Chainani, Indian American New York Times best-selling author of “The School for Good and Evil,” is poised for superstardom, as the Paul Feig-directed feature film debut of his book series (by the same name) produced by Netflix, drops this summer. The feature stars Hollywood A-listers, Charlize Theron, Kerry Washington, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Yeoh, Ben Kingsley and Patti LuPone amongst other industry stalwarts.
Circling back to the 2022 Oscars this past Sunday, in the press room, Oscar-winner Joseph Patel took advantage of being in front of international media to make his point that three South Asians had won Academy Awards in one single night. He, along with Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Robert Fyvolent and David Dinerstein won the Best Documentary (Feature) Oscar for the Harlem-based story “Summer of Soul (…Or When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised).” A short while before, Riz Ahmed and Aneil Karia won the Best Short Film (Live Action) Oscar for “The Long Goodbye.”
As an immigrant from India living in the U.S. for the last 14 years, I have a first-hand experience of the kind of opportunities Hollywood was giving to brown South Asians in front and behind the camera – until the recent tectonic shift of content being produced and viewed on digital streaming platforms. I had to find ways to make things work and mold my self-initiated ventures as viable and relevant in Hollywood. The South Asian immigrant community globally is extremely industrious and we contribute tremendously to our local communities. We are a part of these communities and our stories are also important which need to be seen, and heard.
Riz Ahmed summarized the importance of telling our stories, especially now, when South Asians are being heard and taken seriously. In the Oscar winners’ press room, I had the opportunity to ask Ahmed this question to which he articulately expressed, “I think it’s important to tell all kinds of stories – stories about joy, suffering, and about all types of people. In a time when migrants, refugees, and immigrants are being dehumanized, I think it’s really important to tell stories that change that. What we’ve tried to do with our own film (“The Long Goodbye”) is, yes, show the challenges and the dangers, but also to celebrate the joy, and the community of the immigrant family at the heart of this story.”
Although there’s a ton of work to be done collectively, the streaming of content led by Netflix, Amazon, Apple TV, Paramount, etc., being largely geo-unrestricted, and with the historic Oscar wins of these brilliantly talented South Asians at the 2022 Oscars, for the first time I can sense a new united front in filmed entertainment: South Asian Hollywood.
Sunil Sadarangani is a Mumbai-born, Los Angeles-based multiple award-winning producer and writer, having been a part of international digital film projects for over 15 years. He has produced award-winning short films “In Transit” (Shorts TV and Oscar nomination qualifier), “Blind,” “Nova,” and “With You.” He is the co-founder and Director of Programming of the Ojai Short Film Festival, now in its third season. He is a charter member of the Programmers of Color Collective (POC2) and was on the jury of the 2019 Los Angeles Greek Film Festival and a Senior Assistant Programmer at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. He currently volunteers on the assistant programming committee at Outfest, Los Angeles. Sunil is an officially accredited writer covering film and digital media at leading film festivals and industry award events. The California State Senate has recognized him for his ongoing commitment to creativity and innovation in the Los Angeles community. Sadarangani is the co-founder of Omagination Pictures, a production company representing and producing South Asian creators and stories. He has been instrumental in securing IP content as well as forging associations with industry executives and creators for the company.