Where were the dancers of South Asian descent in last week’s Oscars performance of Naatu Naatu? That is the core of ongoing criticism of the dance sequence of the viral hit song from international film hit RRR as performed on the night.
Naatu Naatu made Oscars history as the first song from an Indian film to win the Academy Award for best original song — pushing aside heavyweights Lady Gaga and Rihanna to snag the prize.
With music by composer M.M. Keeravani and lyrics by Chandrabose, the win for the Telugu-language song followed an exuberant performance, including the “hook dance” steps from the film rejigged for the Dolby Theatre stage.
However something was missing on the night as plenty of outlets have been quick to point out – then and since.
Pieces by Variety, The L.A. Times, IndieWire, and more, have lamented no dancers of South Asian descent were seen, despite coming from a film by Indian filmmakers, about Indian history, and informed heavily by the styles of Indian music. AV Club details:
[…] while the Oscars version of the dance was technically more diverse than the one in the movie—which is mostly about NTR Jr. and Charan’s characters dancing the crap out of a bunch of stuffy British white guys—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.
“Respectfully, where is the representation?” choreographer Joya Kazi asked in an Instagram post that preceded the performance (but not news about its casting).
Dancer Achinta S. McDaniel told Variety, “Some people say, ‘Just be happy with what we got,’ and that’s part of [the problem] — this idea of just accepting the scraps that are thrown to you. Just be happy an Indian song was nominated [and won]. Don’t be mad about the overwhelming racism that appeared in the performance.”
Several critics also drew contrasts between the Naatu Naatu performance and the performance of Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire at the 2009 Oscars, which featured “Indian singers and it was a multi-racial group of dancers and musicians.”
The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences has not responded to the criticisms.