South Asian representation at last night’s Academy Awards was shouldered almost entirely by Kumail Nanjiani. The actor attended the ceremony with his talented wife, Emily V. Gordon. The duo was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for their movie “The Big Sick.”
On our way to an Oscar viewing party. pic.twitter.com/4NRxREEKa9
— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) March 4, 2021
They lost to Jordan Peele, who won for “Get Out.” His win was powerful because he is now the first African-American to win in this category. As sad as I am that the one desi who was nominated at the Oscars this year didn’t get the trophy, I’m happy for Peele and his historic win.
Last night’s ceremony had to live up to lots of expectations because Hollywood has found itself embroiled in an important movement over the past year. Thanks to the uprising of the #MeToo and the Time’s Up Initiative, notable men have been brought down because of the sexual allegations against them. In his opening monologue, host Jimmy Kimmel addressed these issues pretty much head-on along with bringing up the pay disparity between men and women, specifically addressing the Mark Wahlberg-Michelle Williams issue. Kimmel remained topical but still funny (remember last year’s whole “Moonlight” and “La La Land” fiasco?). It was a good start to the Oscars.
As for the other good parts of the almost 4-hour long ceremony, what stood out to me was not only the winners but also the presenters. Oscar nominations have, for the past few years, triggered the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. This year, there was a slight improvement in nominating more talented people of color and women but there is still such a long way to go. To cover up for this, many of the presenters on stage were diverse and deserved to get their moment.
From past winners and legends like Rita Moreno, Viola Davis, Jane Fonda to current favorites like Gina Rodriguez, Tiffany Haddish, and yes, Nanjiani, the presenters left their mark.
Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’O and Nanjiani came on-stage to present the award for the Best Production Design. Before doing that, the two spoke about being immigrants and supported the DREAMers, who are protected under DACA, a federal government program the Trump administration is trying to repeal. Hey, if you’re getting a chance to speak on that mic, might as well leave your mark.
In another wonderful segment, three of the pioneers of Time’s Up movement: Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra, Salma Hayek Pinault introduced the ‘New Voices’ of Hollywood. It includes brief interviews with those creatives who are bringing fresh perspectives to cinema. It was heartwarming to see Nanjiani involved as one of these voices along with trailblazers like Greta Gerwig, Dee Rees, Ava DuVernay and more. It reaffirms what we have known for so long. Representation matters.
Winners like Guillermo del Toro (Best Director, “Shape of Water”) and the movie “Coco” (Best Animated Feature) put the spotlight on Latin-American artists who are thriving. While accepting the award, “Coco” star Anthony Gonzalez gave a quick speech in Spanish, as well.
Another standout moment was to see two Bollywood icons, Sridevi and Shashi Kapoor, featured during the ‘In Memoriam’ montage video. Sridevi passed away on 24th February this year and appeared in over 300 movies in India including big hits like “Mr. India,” “Sadma,” “English Vinglish.” Shashi Kapoor, who passed away on 4th December, was a member of Bollywood’s great film clan and appeared in several successful Indian movies like “Kalyug,” “Namak Halaal,” and a few English language ones, including “The Deceivers” alongside Pierce Brosnan.
One of the most epic moments of the night came towards the end when Frances McDormand took the stage to accept her win for Best Actress for her daring performance in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” She asked all of the female nominees from every category to stand up. From actresses like Meryl Streep and Octavia Spencer to Rachel Morrison (the only female cinematographer nominated in the history of that category) to Mary J. Blige (nominated in two categories for her role in “Mudbound”) were met with standing ovations. McDormand reminded the audience not just to applaud these women but to finance their projects so their stories can be told. She shut it down with her words, ending her speech by reminding everyone about ‘inclusion rider,’ a clause which actors/actresses can include in their contract to demand a certain level of diversity in the film’s cast and crew.
Nanjiani even shared a picture of wife and Oscar nominee Gordon.
— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) March 5, 2021
I would be remiss if I didn’t shout out to beauty blogger Deepica Mutyala. She made her own appearance of sorts at the Oscars because she starred in a Samsung commercial with Issa Rae, Morrison, and more.
— Samsung Mobile US (@SamsungMobileUS) March 4, 2021
It was beyond wonderful to see all of these victories shine through. Yes, there is a long way to go when it comes to inclusion. Nanjiani was the only South Asian representation we saw at this year’s ceremony. Last year, Dev Patel was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category for “Lion,” and he attended with his mother (!) and even brought along his co-star Sunny Pawar. If this is only the beginning then we’ll take what we got this year because it was nothing short of powerful. Well, powerful-ish.
On that note, we’ll leave you with this stunning image of Mindy Kaling as she attended the Vanity Fair Oscar Party last night with her best friend and “The Office” co-star B.J. Novak: