One week after releaseThe 95th Academy Awards continue to come under intense scrutiny from critics, especially for their handling (and casting) of a highly anticipated performance of the hit song “Naatyou Natu” of international film sensation RRR. As reported in pieces by Variety, The LA Times, IndieWireand more, the performance of “Naatyou Natu” was criticized for including exactly zero dancer of South Asian descent, though hailing from a film by Indian filmmakers, about Indian history, and heavily informed by Indian music styles.
It wasn’t originally meant to be that way; The Oscar producers actually approached the film’s stars, N.T.Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan, to resume their high-energy dance battle from the 2022 film. But the pair declined, seemingly uncomfortable with the short amount of time they would have to master the Oscars 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 will replace the RRR stars.
And while the Oscar version of the dance was technically more diverse than that of the film – which mainly concerns the characters of NTR Jr. and Charan dancing a group of sweltering British whites to the hilt – South Asian professionals in the dance community are still calling out the Oscars for ignoring the opportunity to showcase more South Asian artists on such a massive stage. “RRespectively, where is the representation? asked choreographer Joya Kazi in an Instagram post leading up to the performance (but no news on its casting). Meanwhile, dancer Achinta S. McDaniel didn’t mince words, recounting Variety“Some people say, “Just be happy with what we have,” and that’s part (of the problem) – this idea of just accepting the leftovers that are thrown at you. Just be happy that an Indian song was nominated (and won). Don’t be mad at the overwhelming racism that showed up in the performance. Several critics also drew contrasts between the performance “Naatu Naatu” and the performance of “Jai Ho” by Slumdog Millionaire at the 2009 Oscars, which, according to the professor of media studies Shilpa Dave highlighted “Indian singers and it was a multiracial group of dancers and musicians.
So far, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has yet to release an official statement in response to the criticism.