When I and the people around me were growing up, rarely did we see brown-skinned, black-haired people in the movies we watched, the games we played, or the books we read. We were told ‘international exposure’ is a thing of wonder and will equip us with a worldly knowledge we would need later on in life, but something was always lacking.
I wonder, was it the fact that I grew up never seeing someone like me take lead in any piece of entertainment, or was it that even I didn’t believe that someone like me could be in that role?
The 94th annual Academy Awards, more commonly known as the Oscars, were held on 27 March, 2022. In a first, several of the total nominations belong to wonderful films by talented South Asian artists, two of which bagged the precious trophy.
The advent of double-digit nominations and a double-win is an enormous cause to celebrate. At a global scale and amidst the grandeur of the Oscars, it may seem petty, but these individuals’ work means more to South Asia and its artists than simply a chance to win the prestigious award. It is about representation and the due credit that must follow.
Rintu Thomas, Sushmit Ghosh, and Anurima Bhargava for Writing With Fire, Riz Ahmed for Flee and The Long Goodbye, Suroosh Alvi for Flee, Pawo Choyning Dorji for Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, Joseph Patel for Summer of Soul, Aneil Karia for The Long Goodbye, and Elizabeth Mirzaei and Gulistan Mirzaei for Three Songs for Benazir –– these individuals and their nominations across categories amount to the magic we see.
Riz Ahmed took The Long Goodbye to victory in the Live Action Short Film, while Joseph Patel and Summer of Soul won the Best Documentary Feature.
Each piece of art is as thoughtful and nuanced as the next, it is work like this that allows South Asians to believe that they belong. The ‘If they can do it, so can I’ inspiration is as real as ever, and the 2022 nominees prove it.
When we say we want ‘real’ films and ‘real’ art, we expect them to look and feel like the world around us. Coincidentally or not, that does not entail light-skinned people with hair colour only bleach can achieve here in India. This is not to say it is only ever about what we see, it is about what we perceive and believe thereafter. We then believe, at least in our younger years (remember, someone is in those very years right now), that if you do not look, talk, and behave like those on your screens, you are an outsider.
South Asian artists and their interpretation of the world on a big screen accounts for more factors than recognition from the Academy. The only way to normalise and accept the various brilliant facets of this world is to be exposed to it –– to know and understand they exist the way they exist because of a history, culture, and heritage dissimilar to what the rest of the world knows.
None of what South Asian artists put out now is in fact novel, these are our everyday stories. It is new to the world because this cultural group remained for the longest time, and still does in many ways, underrepresented.
When you watch these films, I urge you to spot the similarities with them and with those from the West, because it is not that our love is different, our comedy feeble, our horror pale, or our action weak. It is that the stories stem from a place where the way of life, the land, the people, and most importantly, the experiences are simply different. No less, no more, just different. And it is about time the world sees it all.
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