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The Oscars “Naatu Naatu” Performance is Facing Backlash. Here’s why.

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FIU chapter.

On Sunday, March 12, the 95th Oscars Award Show was held. There were some wins and some losses. There was Lady Gaga. There were Florence Pugh and Andrew Garfield. There was no slap.

Even without a slap or an award mixup, this year’s Oscars still faced some backlash and controversy for a variety of things, like “The Whale” fat suit backlash and the snubs for many of the black award nominees. After all, what would the Oscars be without some backlash and controversy? Not Interesting.

One controversy of this year’s Oscars was the “Naatu Naatu” performance, which featured NO South Asian performers, which sparked a lot of backlash within the South Asian community.

There has always been a perception that the Academy is ‘too white,” and this is often said on the Oscars stage by Black American actors. That’s why this year when Naatu Naatu was performed on the Oscars stage, more than a billion eyes were glued to TV screens. But nearly all the dancers were white Americans despite their being a strong South Asian community in the US, some of whom are accomplished dancers.


So many talented LA dancers who are South Indian to do this. Oscars do better, it’s 2023 #desi #indian #oscars #naatunaatu #tollywood #bollywood #fyp

♬ original sound – Dr. Maheetha Bharadwaj, MD MSc
posted by Dr. Maheeta Bharajwar on TikTok

In the Telugu movie, “RRR”, Ram (Ram Charan) and Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr) perform the song “Naatu Naatu”, pitting their regional dance against buttoned-down English styles, which is a battle that they clearly win. Although Ram Charan and N.T. Rama Rao Jr weren’t able to perform at the ceremony due to their busy schedule, many hoped that dancers of South Asian descent would perform, hoping to have some representation at the awards show, which did not go as hoped. Although the original singers, Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava, and the original choreographer, Prem Rakshith were of South Asian descent, the two main dancers, Billy Mustapha and Jason Glover — who do not belong to the South Asian heritage — were passed off as being Indians on the stage. While Mustapha is a Lebanese-Canadian dancer, Glover is American. The dancers dressed up as NTR and Charan and performed a dance number which is a representation of anti-colonialism. 

One day before the awards show, Lauren Gottlieb, an American dancer who has worked in the Indian film industry, posted now-deleted videos and photos of her rehearsing “Naatu Naatu” with her team, which had little to no cultural representation. In the video, she also referred to the song as Bollywood, when in fact it is Tollywood, as the film is originally Telugu cinema. This angered a lot of people, including Indian American dancer and choreographer Ramita Ravi, who told IndieWire, “Here are people like me, like Joya, like Kavita Rao, like Achinta (McDaniel), like Nakul (Dev Mahajan) who have very, very much been in the industry. (We) have the agents, have the reps, have union status, have all of it and still were not considered for a job like this where it’s our culture on display.”

posted by Joya Kazi on Instagram
posted by Eshani Patel on Instagram
posted by April on Twitter

Here is the original “Naatu Naatu” from the film “RRR”:

Original “Naatu Naatu” from Youtube

Here is the Oscars performance of “Naatu Naatu”:

Oscars performance of “Naatu Naatu” from YouTube

Even though the song “Naatu Naatu” won the Oscar for Best Original Song, many are still peeved at the lack of cultural diversity in the Oscars, which is also shown from the past till now, as throughout the years, only 6% of the nominees have been people of color which needs to change NOW.

Rumina is a current Junior Psychology Major Student at Florida International University who loves working with children and making a difference in people’s lives. In her free time she loves reading, writing, playing games, whether they are board games or video games, and meeting new people. She also loves reading steamy rom-coms and watching Bollywood movies.