Oscars called out for 'overwhelming racism' in Best Original Song's dance performance

The song 'Naatu Naatu' from the Indian film 'RRR' won the Academy Award

The 95th Annual Academy Awards is being called out for a lack of South Asian performers during the dance sequence for a song from an Indian movie.

The song, "Naatu Naatu," with music by M.M. Keeravani and lyrics by Chandrabose, came from the 2022 international film "RRR" and became the first from an Indian movie to win Best Original Song. Like other nominations in the category, the song was performed during the Mar. 12 awards ceremony featuring its viral "hook dance" movements.

While the win and the performance itself were well-received, some noticed that none of the Oscar dancers appeared to be Indian.

"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," the founder of an L.A. dance company told Variety. "Just be happy an Indian song was nominated [and won]. Don’t be mad about the overwhelming racism that appeared in the performance."

Oscar Awards

An Academy Awards crew member looks over a background element for the red carpet at Union Station, one of the locations for Sunday's 93rd Academy Awards, Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, Pool)


"[Many dancers] have struggled with getting cast for big opportunities, because they don’t have the ‘right’ training. They don’t have the ‘right" experience," said Meghna Chakraborty told The Los Angeles Times. "They’re not represented by agencies in the traditional way. They’re not a part of unions yet. The styles that we’ve trained in are not considered as legitimate as the Western dance styles. It’s just super disheartening."

CBS News likewise quoted several members of the South Asian community who expressed disappointment in the performance.

"It's just so unfortunate that this piece has now marred what really would have been a flawless execution of an evening with regards to diversity and equity," cultural strategist Heena Patel said. "If you don't find people right away, it is on you to try harder, if it is a priority. [The choreographers] chose the easy route."

IndieWire writer Proma Khosla reached out to the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences to confirm if there were any South Asian performers during the number.

"A representative for AMPAS, when asked about the background of the performance’s dancers, told IndieWire it ‘was incorrect’ that there were few, if any South Asian artists in the performance, though they did not immediately provide further information when asked for clarification," Khosla wrote.

Oscar award statue

The song "Naatu Naatu" went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song (STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)


According to reports from the Academy Awards, the performance originally intended to feature the film’s two lead actors in the dance number. However, Oscars producer Raj Kapoor stated that they "did not feel comfortable" with the ceremony’s rehearsal schedule.

"In late February, we were informed that Ram Charan and N.T. Rama Rao Jr. would be attending the Oscars, but they did not feel comfortable performing the live number on stage. The change was brought on because of their other professional commitments and the limited amount of time to rehearse. The original number was workshopped and rehearsed for two months and was shot over a period of 15 days. The ‘Naatu Naatu’ performance for the Oscars was rehearsed in Los Angeles with professional dancers for a total of 18 hours of rehearsal and one 90-minute camera blocking," Kapoor said.

Despite this, Kapoor commented that the film’s producers, choreographers, leads and singers were all approached and consulted in the decision-making process for the performance. Kapoor also noted that it was important for them to promote a more diverse dance team to celebrate the song’s international fan base.

Academy Awards trophy statue

The Oscar statue, on display inside the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the morning of nominations for the 95th Academy Awards, in the  in Beverly Hills, CA, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.  (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)


"While the original film sequence features about 50 dancers that are mainly Caucasian, we decided that our cast of 20 supporting dancers would be diverse and from all different backgrounds. Global audiences fell in love with ‘Naatu Naatu’ and were dancing in theaters around the world, so we wanted to be open to any ethnicity to help honor the global impact of this song, and to celebrate that universal, unifying power of music and dancing," Kapoor said.