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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at USF chapter.

Like every other Indian girl growing up in America, I craved representation. For a while, I thought I got this representation through figures like Mindy Kaling or Lilly Singh, also known by her pseudonym “Superwoman”. As I got older, I realized the crumbs provided by these figures were hardly anything. I wanted better and I deserved better. I needed figures who could make a name for themselves in the entertainment industry by possessing genuine talent rather than by enforcing stereotypes for a few cheap laughs. Every couple of years, public opinion seems to claim this representation finally arrived. Even though I would like to believe male comedians such as Kumail Nanjiani and Hasan Minhaj made astute and comedic observations of the country’s political situation, their slight misogynistic tendencies were eventually revealed. In the same way, everyone thought Priyanka Chopra joining Hollywood and marrying Nick Jonas would be the “American Dream” coming to life, they also seemed to conveniently forget her casual Hindu Nationalist remarks. 

This brings us to the modern era where a Telugu, a South Indian language, song “Naatu Naatu” from the movie RRR won an Oscar. Not only is this monumental as it meant Indian cinema gained worldwide recognition, it meant South Indian cinema was garnering acclaim. Whether or not there is a clear reason, South Indians tend to be marginalized within the Indian community and largely disregarded by the international population, meaning that this is an amazing moment for Indians, and specifically Telugu people, everywhere. 

Yet, as someone who is Telugu, the trajectory of RRR has left me feeling empty. Even though the movie and the song have been winning awards left and right, these wins do not feel like the representation I had hoped for. After lots of thought, the lack of excitement around the accomplishments of the team has to do with the movie feeling largely ingenuine to me. 

As a movie meant to discuss the atrocities of colonization and the efforts of Telugu freedom fighters, a group that is often disregarded when talking about the Indian independence movement, it didn’t really achieve its goal. By combining two freedom fighters who didn’t live in the same time period or area and putting them in dramatic action sequences, did the audience truly understand anything about the struggles of the people during the time of British colonization? Alongside the general content of the movie, I am aware of what the Telugu film industry is like. Both the lead actors, Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao JR, or NTR JR, and Ram Charan, were able to make a name for themselves in the industry because of their family names. And even though both of their families are involved in politics, neither actor hardly ever speaks out about the political and social situation within the Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. In my mind, I don’t understand how they have the right to play legendary historical figures who fought against injustice when they can’t raise their voices against present-day injustices. While everyone else in the Indian community seemed to be celebrating the Oscar win for “Naatu Naatu” from RRR, I was more excited about Michelle Yeoh’s and Ke Huy Quan’s wins for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. 

I left the movie theater speechless after Everything Everywhere All At Once and decided at that moment that I was “too dumb for smart movies”. However, at its core, EEAAO is not complex and perfectly encapsulates the relationship between many immigrants and their children. Even though I wasn’t totally able to relate to all aspects of Joy Wang’s, played by Stephanie Hsu, struggles with her mother, Evelyn Wang, played by Michelle Yeoh, the basic feelings were there. Neither mother nor daughter is able to explain their needs to each other with the other always falling short of addressing them. As the mother attempts to understand how her daughter, who once looked at her with eyes of admiration, now looks at her with eyes of trepidation, the daughter attempts to understand why her mother can’t seem to understand the concept of change. Individually, each one wonders how their lives ended up at this point, and all of the different outcomes their lives could have had. As children of immigrants, we will never know our parents’ history, and why they made the choices. All we can do is wonder if they regret these choices. In moments when I am left alone with my thoughts, it’s almost impossible to not spiral while imagining how different my mother’s life could have been. Yet, it’s impossible to be overly sympathetic to them as they never seem to know what to say to us. Even though I receive a compliment on the one hand, I receive criticism on the other hand, and the second I realize how harsh I am being towards my parents for minor miscommunication, I am flooded with this sense of guilt. This constant push and pull were incredibly depicted in EEAAO, and for that reason, I consider this movie to be the representation I craved as a kid. While I would like someone who looks like me on the big screen, I would prefer someone who experiences the same struggles over anything.

Tanmayee Kanagala is a first-year majoring in biomedical sciences and minoring in political science. With aspirations to one day enter the medical field, she enjoys having creative outlets that differ from her future career path.