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After the Oscars’ Controversial ‘Naatu Naatu’ Performance, South Asian Dancers Are Fighting for Representation



Nearly a week after the Oscars, the hurt and disappointment of a missed opportunity still weighs heavily on the minds of some South Asian American dancers, who are setting out to ensure it never happens again.

Many in the South Asian dance community were dismayed by the astonishing dearth of South Asian representation in the “Naatu Naatu” performance at Sunday’s Academy Awards. While singers Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava were on hand to perform their hit tune from Tollywood smash “RRR” — which made history for India that night by winning best original song — they were joined on stage by not a single dancer of South Asian heritage.

How could the Academy have gotten this so wrong? Especially when, 14 years ago, they nailed it with the staging of A.R. Rahman’s “Slumdog Millionaire” hit “Jai Ho” at the 2009 Oscars as part of a widely celebrated four-minute medley.

“[The 2009 Oscars] had Indian singers and it was a multi-racial group of dancers and musicians,” explains Shilpa Davé, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia who specializes in the history of representations of race and gender in the media. “They were really showing that music has this global force. That’s why people didn’t have an issue at that time.”

While Sunday night did mark a historic turning point for India, which also won best documentary short for Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga’s “The Elephant Whisperers,” the glaring absence of South Asian performers on Hollywood’s biggest stage was the “last straw” for dancers like Achinta S. McDaniel.

“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,” McDaniel, the founder and artistic director of the Los Angeles-based Blue13 Dance Company, tells Variety. “Just be happy an Indian song was nominated [and won]. Don’t be mad about the overwhelming racism that appeared in the performance.”

McDaniel’s agent put her forward to serve as an associate consultant for the performance two weeks before the Oscars, but her rep was told that the AMPAS-selected choreographers Tabitha and Napoleon D’uomo — the Los Angeles-based duo known as NappyTabs — had already hired their team. (Variety understands that “RRR” choreographer Prem Rakshith was advising on the Oscars performance, but that NappyTabs were the primary choreographers.)

“[Equity is] a big part of what I’m interested in, and this has galvanized so many of my colleagues in the field,” says McDaniel. “Now it’s enough. This is the last straw.”

McDaniel is hosting a Zoom on Saturday for South Asians in the dance community to unpack the events of the Oscars and plan ahead for a South Asian Summit this summer — an event she hopes to stage in conjunction with national organization Dance/USA’s annual conference.

“This really lit a fire,” says McDaniel. “So many people are joining this Zoom so we can start to make an actual change. It’s been too long that we’ve been quiet.”

Vikas Arun, a New York-based dancer and teacher specializing in forms of Western and Indian rhythmic and percussive dance, tells Variety there have also been conversations this week about building a cross-functional advocacy group that can rally on behalf of South Asian entertainers in moments of crisis.

“When other minorities face [incidents like this], they have organizations they can go to,” says Arun. “Our community is poor at having organized advocacy because there are so few of us. We’re individually fighting our own fight, and there’s no central organization. It also makes it frustrating for new South Asian artists who aren’t at our level [and don’t have the connections].”

Davé, who authored the 2013 book “Indian Accents: Brown Voice and Racial Performance in American Television and Film,” agrees the “next step” in the conversation is to further interrogate the advocacy of South Asian entertainers.

“It’s about thinking of representation and advocacy for not just directors, writers and actors, but also performers on the larger scale as well,” says Davé. “I think dancers have been left out of this conversation. So when we’re looking at casting agencies and talent agencies, [we need to ask] where are the agents that are advocating to the establishment?”

According to talent such as Ramita Ravi, another professional dancer and choreographer whose agent put her forward for the Academy Awards, situations like the Oscars performance “unfortunately happen all the time.”

“I can name a handful of personal experiences that follow the same thread,” she tells Variety over email. “But the beauty of us coming together is that supporting each other and building a collective, inclusive voice can create change such that this doesn’t continue happening in the future.”

Interestingly, five days on from the awards, there still remains some confusion about how the production transpired in the first place. It was initially thought that “RRR” actors NTR Jr. and Ram Charan would perform the dance themselves, but Oscars producer Raj Kapoor detailed in an AMPAS blog that the actors declined, as they weren’t comfortable doing so with the time constraints. As such, their characters were represented on stage by Lebanese Canadian dancer Billy Mustapha and American dancer Jason Glover, whom many wrongly assumed was of South Asian heritage.

One source tells Variety that AMPAS then intended to fly over dancers from India to support the performance, but their work visas fell through, prompting NappyTabs to hire their own dancers. (This claim has been contested by several dancers.)

While a source close to the production says AMPAS tried to ensure the original team from India was looped in on every creative decision — a team that included the film’s public relations team, S.S. Rajamouli’s son Karthikeya Rajamouli, “RRR” producers and composer M.M. Keeravaani — the outrage at the resulting performance also highlights the divergence in what representation means for nationals versus those who are part of a diaspora.

“For many South Asian Americans in the U.S., we were born and raised in America and feel a very large sense of belonging here,” explains Ravi. “For other generations, and especially immigrants or folks living in India, it’s a bit of a different equation — they might be excited to be invited to the table, while the diaspora wants to be part of building the table. In that way, I think the idea of representation sits very differently across the diaspora.”

Davé adds: “The Indian cinema industry is the largest in the world, and when you’re coming from that background and environment, you don’t see the injustices that are happening in the diaspora and in Hollywood. So [the ‘RRR’ team] was thrilled to win an Oscar — and rightly so.”

But for those in the diaspora, representation matters greatly, says Davé.

“We’re seeing the inequity in the main industries of America, and what it does is reinforce that idea that South Asians are foreigners who live on the other side of the world, and they aren’t a part of the culture and the history of Hollywood and the United States, which is not true. South Asians have been in Hollywood, and for many years have been forced into roles that were minuscule or forced to hide [altogether]. So, to try and diminish that, in an era in which we have seen so many strides — that is problematic.”

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TCM Sets Warner Bros. 100th Anniversary Program Slate Including 10 Restored Classic Films



Warner Bros. will commemorate its 100th anniversary with a block of programming on Turner Classic Movies starting April 1.

TCM will broadcast remastered and newly restored versions of 10 classic Warner Bros. films, each featuring an introduction from a filmmaker or film expert culled from the network’s ongoing partnership with the Film Foundation, a non-profit preservation and exhibition organization. The program coincides with the April 13-16 run of the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood.

On April 13, a new 4K restoration of 1959’s “Rio Bravo,” Howard Hawks’ classic western starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson and Angie Dickinson, will premiere on TCM and serve as the opening night film of the festival. Dickinson will attend the in-person event, while Martin Scorsese will introduce the film on TCM’s small-screen presentation. Similarly, Warner Bros. will premiere a new 4K restoration of Elia Kazan’s “East of Eden,” starring James Dean, on both the big screen and the network, the latter featuring an introduction by filmmakers Wes Anderson and Joanna Hogg.

Other films planned for broadcast on TCM include “Land of the Pharaohs” and “Storm Warning” (both introduced by Scorsese), “Rachel, Rachel” (introduced by Ethan Hawke), “Safe in Hell” (by Alexander Payne), and “A Lion is in the Streets,” introduced by Daphne Dentz and Robyn Sklaren of the Warner Bros. Discovery Library.

TCM additionally plans to program trailers, archival interviews, documentaries and other ephemera from Warner Bros., complementing festival programs such as “Looney Tunes at the Oscars” and “Warner Bros. Coming Attractions,” panels exploring the studio’s extensive history.

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Jeff Goldblum Addresses His Jurassic Park Costar’s Cancer Diagnosis



Jurassic Park star Jeff Goldblum has addressed his costar Sam Neill’s diagnosis of stage 3 blood cancer. Goldblum portrayed mathematician Dr. Ian Macolm in the first Jurassic Park film opposite Neill’s paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant. He returned to his role as Ian in The Lost World: Jurassic Park and in Jurassic World: Dominion, the latter of which saw him reunite with Neill in the franchise for the first time since Spielberg’s original film.

Speaking with Evening Standard, Goldblum opened up about Neill’s diagnosis of stage 3 blood cancer, which the Jurassic Park actor revealed in his recent autobiography. He quietly spoke about Neill’s remission, hopeful that the actor would recover soon. Read what Goldblum had to say below:


“He shared it with us early on. He’s been in constant touch with me and, well, he looks fantastic, he sounds great. Hopefully, he’s as healthy as a horse now. I just adore him.”

How Jeff Goldblum & Sam Neill’s Jurassic Park Roles Defined Them

Having starred in Jurassic Park in 1993, Goldblum and Neill have continued to be friends since taking their roles in the dinosaur franchise. During the production of Jurassic World: Dominion and while dealing with the Covid pandemic, the duo began singing and posting cover songs online. The pair are good friends, which makes Goldblum’s well wishes for Neill’s recovery process all the more heartwarming.

Goldblum and Neill are also the only actors whose Jurassic Park characters visited Isla Sorna on the big screen. Ian Malcolm went to Site B in The Lost World: Jurassic Park to document the dinosaurs, while Alan Grant visited the island in Jurassic Park III after being hired to find a lost boy. Their return in subsequent Jurassic Park sequels underscores their roles as the heart of the franchise, made all the more prominent because of their reunion in Jurassic World: Dominion.

Thankfully, Neill’s cancer has been in remission for the last eight months, indicating the treatment he went through has been working to save his life. The talented actor is already filming a new project as well, having reassured his fans in an Instagram post earlier this week that he is doing well. Goldblum’s concern for his friend is one of many well wishes the Jurassic Park star has received as he continues to recover from his diagnosis.

Source: Evening Standard

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Vanessa Hudgens Sets Philippines Travel Documentary Exploring Her Family’s Asian Heritage



Vanessa Hudgens, the Asian American actor whose career kicked off in Disney’s “High School Musical” series, is set to shoot a travel documentary in the Philippines, the country of her mother’s birth.

The untitled project will shoot in Palawan and Manila in March. Paul Soriano is attached as a director, producer and executive producer. Mark A. Victor of TEN17P will also serve as executive producer. No distributor, broadcaster or streaming platform has yet been disclosed.

Soriano’s recent credits include directing the 2019 film “Mañanita” and Manny Pacquiao biopic “Kid Kulafu.”

The documentary is said to showcase the relationship between Hudgens and her Filipino mother, Gina, who emigrated to the U.S. at the age of 25, as well as Hudgens’ sister, Stella.

Since “High School Musical,” Hudgens has notched up key roles in “Spring Breakers”, “Gimme Shelter,” “Bad Boys for Life,” and the Oscar-nominated Lin-Manuel Miranda-directed musical “Tick, Tick …Boom!” Hudgens executive produced and starred in the film “The Knight Before Christmas” and all three installments of “The Princess Switch” series for Netflix. Hudgens is next set to star in the upcoming films “French Girl” and “Bad Boys 4.”

“I feel like ours is such a relatable story to so many women all over the world,” Hudgens said in a statement announcing the documentary. “The more that we can share, the more we can lift each other up.”

“We are honored to work with Vanessa for this film project. It’s inspiring to note that with everything she has achieved in life, she wants to discover her Filipino roots and pay homage to her mother’s country. Hopefully, this opens doors for many more collaborations to come,” said Soriano in a statement.

Soriano previously produced “A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery” (2016), which won a special film award at the Berlin International Film Festival, and “Transit” in 2013, which was selected as the Philippines’ entry for the foreign language film category at the Academy Awards. He is also a presidential creative adviser to the Philippines’ government.

Hudgens is repped by CAA, Untitled Entertainment, the Lede Company and Ziffren Brittenham.

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