One week after broadcastwill the 95th Academy Awards continue to come under scrutiny from critics, especially for their handling (and casting) of a much awaited performance of the hit song “Naatyou nightu” from international film sensation RRR. As reported in pieces by Variety, LA Times, IndieWireand more, the performance of “Naatyou nightu” has come under fire for, among other things, exactly zero dancers of South Asian descent, despite coming from a film by Indian filmmakers, about Indian history and heavily informed by the styles of Indian music.
It wasn’t supposed to be like that in the first place; Oscars producers actually approached the film’s stars, N.T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan, to reprise their high-energy dance fight from the 2022 film. But both men declined, apparently uncomfortable with the short amount of time they would have to master the Oscar version of the dance. So instead, choreographers Tabitha and Napoleon D’uomo (aka NappyTabs) allegedly hired dancers they knew to perform the piece, including Lebanese Canadian dancer Billy Mustapha and American dancer Jason Glover to front RRR stars.
And while the Oscar version of the dance was technically more diverse than the one in the film – which is mostly about NTR Jr. and Charan’s characters dancing the crap out of a bunch of stuffy British white dudes – South Asian professionals in the dance community are still calling out the Oscars for ignoring the opportunity to feature more South Asian performers on such a massive stage. “Rrespectfully, where is the representation?” asked choreographer Joya Kazi in an Instagram post that preceded the performance (but not news of its cast). Meanwhile, dancing Achinta S. McDaniel did not speak about Variety“Some people say, ‘Just happy with what we got,’ and that’s part of (the problem) – this idea of just accepting the scraps that are thrown at you. Just be happy, an Indian song was nominated (and won). Don’t be mad about the overwhelming racism that appeared in the show.” Several critics also drew contrasts between the “Naatu Naatu” performance and the performance of “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire at the Oscars in 2009, as per media studies professor Shilpa Dave highlighted “Indian singers and it was a multi-racial group of dancers and musicians.”
So far, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences has yet to issue an official statement in response to the criticism.