A week after airing, the 95th Academy Awards are continuing to come under scrutiny from critics, specifically for their handling (and casting) of a much-anticipated performance of hit song “Naatu Naatu” from international film sensation RRR. As reported in pieces by Variety, The L.A. Times, IndieWire, and more, the performance of “Naatu Naatu” has come under fire for including exactly zero dancers of South Asian descent, despite coming from a film by Indian filmmakers, about Indian history, and informed heavily by the styles of Indian music.
It wasn’t initially supposed to be this way; Oscars producers actually approached the film’s stars, N.T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan, to reprise their high-energy dance battle from the 2022 film. But both men declined, apparently uncomfortable with the short window of time they’d have to master the Oscars version of the dance. So instead, choreographers Tabitha and Napoleon D’uomo (a.k.a. NappyTabs) reportedly hired dancers they were familiar with to perform the piece, including Lebanese Canadian dancer Billy Mustapha and American dancer Jason Glover to stand in for the RRR stars.
And 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). Meanwhile, dancer Achinta S. McDaniel didn’t mince words, telling 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, per media studies professor Shilpa Davé featured “Indian singers and it was a multi-racial group of dancers and musicians.”
So far, the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences has yet to issue an official statement in response to the critiques.