Or at least that was the motto at the 69th Emmy Awards last night. Television’s highest honors have often emphasized the importance of showcasing and applauding diversity. Hosted by Stephen Colbert, this year’s Emmy Awards, once again beat the whole #OscarsSoWhite phenomenon by putting some of the spotlight not only on people of color but also by bringing women to the forefront. (“Big Little Lies!” “The Handmaid’s Tale!” “Veep!”).
Sure, there were some truly WTF moments, too— Yes, I’m looking at you, Sean Spicer! However, I choose to appreciate the slow but certain growth we saw at the Emmy Awards this year in terms of representation, especially South Asian representation because you guys, our heroes were really rockin’ it and it didn’t go unnoticed.
Going directly from Aziz & Lena Waithe winning to Kumail presenting the next Emmy would have blown my mind as a kid. How awesome. ??
The best way to showcase the responsible growth and diversity representation is by celebrating some really solid, emotional acceptance speeches. Winners used their platform not only to thank those who helped them get there but by just really speaking their truth and delivering a message that matters.
Yeah, our talented and woke sweetheart, Ahmed won the Best Actor award for his brilliant performance in “The Night Of.” He is not only the first Muslim to have ever won an award in this category, but also the first South Asian male actor to win an acting Emmy. Way to go, Riz!
In his heartwarming speech, he shone light on how this HBO miniseries brought to light the emergent Islamophobia. He also gave a shout out to the South Asian Youth Association and The Innocence Project. I think I teared up.
Lena Waithe and Aziz Ansari
These two geniuses won for their absolutely stunning writing for the season 2 “Master of None” episode, “Thanksgiving.” Literally, everyone out there stood up to give these two a standing ovation! In it, Waithe took inspiration from her real life, and is also the first African-American woman to win an award for her comedy writing. The episode focuses on a series of thanksgivings, which leads up to her character Denise finally coming out to her mom.
Most importantly, in her poetic acceptance speech, Waithe had a beautiful message for the LGBTQIA community. She said it best, “Thank you for embracing a little Indian boy from South Carolina and a little, queer, black girl from the south side of Chicago.” YAS QUEEN.
Hollywood’s very own Kidman, who truly gave the performance of her career in HBO’s ‘Big Little Lies” didn’t shy away from talking about domestic abuse, rightly calling it an insidious disease. On the show, her character Celeste is the battered wife of her violent husband Perry (played by Alexander Skarsgard, who also won an Emmy for his role). She rises from the meek housewife into someone stronger, bolder, and smarter.
I’m so glad Kidman used her platform to embolden other women who might need it.
Sterling K. Brown
I mean, Brown was positively the highlight of this year’s Emmy Awards. I say this not only because of how sincere he was in his performance in NBC’s “This Is Us,” but because he brought that sincerity with him on stage as he accepted the award. Brown is the first African-American actor to win the lead actor award in 19 years, after Andre Braugher who won in 1998.
Unfortunately, the poor guy was played off stage before he could even finish his speech. Luckily for us, he got to finish his passionate speech backstage.
To no one’s surprise, “Big Little Lies” cleaned out the Emmy Awards last night with several wins, including Outstanding Limited Series. Witherspoon, who not only starred in it but also executive produced it, spoke along with fellow co-star Kidman while receiving the award.
In her speech, she thanked the Academy for finally acknowledging shows that are women-led and tell inspiring stories, hoping that it will lead to more women being cast in meaningful roles.
It’s safe to say this one is going in the records. Glover won two awards for his successful comedy “Atlanta:” Outstanding Lead Actor and Outstanding Director in a Comedy Series. He made history as the first African-American man to win an Emmy for Best Directing and the first African-American actor to win the trophy for Best Actor in a Comedy in 32 years.
Most notably, he thanked POTUS in his acceptance speech “for making black people number one in the most-depressed list,” citing that is his reason for being here. Ha!
In another unsurprising but extremely deserving win, Baldwin won for his parody of Trump on “Saturday Night Live,” which is possibly the most talked about performance of the last year.
The actor is brilliant on the show and yes, his opening line of his speech was “Mr. President, you finally have your Emmy. Because remember how miffed Trump was in the debates against Clinton that he didn’t win the award for “The Apprentice.” Well, Colbert didn’t forget and even played the clip as the award ceremony began.
That’s right. This wonderful woman won for her prolific direction for “The Handmaid’s Tale” pilot, the first female to win this award in 22 years! The episode, “Offred,” is really a masterpiece.
In her speech, Morano only encouraged girl-love by thanking and idolizing all her counterparts on the show, including author Margaret Atwood and actors plus fellow Emmy winners/nominees Elisabeth Moss, Ann Down, Samira Wiley, and Alexis Bledel.
All in all, the Emmy Awards still have a thing or two to learn about properly celebrating diversity (never, ever cut off Sterling K. Brown again!). However, the fact that shows like “Master of None,” “black-ish,” “Atlanta,” “The Night Of,” “Big Little Lies,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” were nominated and won awards proves that the audience is more than ready to watch television that represents them, reflects their lives, and is bold enough to go beyond the ordinary.
Let these shows take over. Let representation and diversity and uniqueness take over. We. Are. Here. For. It.
Saloni Gajjar is a recent alum of NYU’s Magazine Writing Program. Her passion lies in pop culture writing, as is evident in her work with magazines like Marie Claire, Interview, and Complex. Her goal is to show the arts as a medium and mirror of the society, much beyond just entertainment.
March 20, 2023March 29, 2023 3min readBy Rasha Goel
Award-winning commercial real estate and land consultant in Arizona, Anita Verma-Lallian, is venturing into the world of entertainment with her newfound production house, Camelback Productions, making her the first South Asian female in the state to do so. Verma-Lallian is a woman used to paving her own way, and now she’s committed to doing it for future generations.
Through her production company, she aims to contribute towards greater South Asian representation in mainstream media with a focus on storytelling that’s relevant to the community. In a conversation with Brown Girl Magazine, the real estate maven spoke about what inspired her to shift from investing in land to investing in creative dreams.
Tell us more about Camelback Productions and what your hopes are for the company?
The intention is to help communities that are not being represented in the media. As you know, there are a lot more streamers looking for content so that presents an interesting opportunity for people to tell stories that are otherwise not being told.
For us it’s important to tell these stories that aren’t being told, and tell them in the way that we want them to be told. With South Asians, for instance, the roles typically given are stereotypical. There are only four or five roles we are playing repeatedly. I want to show the South Asian community and culture in a different way.
You come from a business and investor background. I am curious to know what catapulted your interest towards establishing a production company?
Good question. There were a few things that inspired my interest. I was looking to diversify the different opportunities we offered our investors. We’ve done a lot of real estate, so we were overall looking for different investment opportunities. And then, at the time when I started exploring this, the real estate market was in this wait-and-see for many people.
Everyone was sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what happens next. There was a slowdown at the end of 2022 which is when I started looking into this more. Film seemed like it was kind of recession-proof and not really tied to what’s happening in the economy, which I thought was refreshing and exciting.
Also, overall, I observed what was happening in the industry with there being a push to see more South Asians in the media. The timing felt right, and I think we’re moving in the right direction.
Good stories and good quality scripts. We are looking at all types of content — movies, docu-series, comedy shows, and reality shows. We’re open to anything that has a good message.
On a personal level, what hits home for you with this production company?
Growing up I always loved film and TV. We watched a lot of Bollywood movies because that’s what we related to and I always loved that. But I did feel there wasn’t a lot of representation of people that looked like me. Being able to change that — especially after having kids, and a daughter who wants to go into film — is important for. It’s a contribution for future generations. It’s important to me that as they grow up, they see people that look just like them.
Is there a significance to the name Camelback?
Yes! Camelback Mountain is a very iconic mountain in Phoenix.It’s one of the most famous hikes we have here and a relatively challenging one.
The significance is being able to overcome challenges and barriers. I have a nice view of Camelback Mountain and it’s something I look at every day, when I’m stressed and overwhelmed. It has a very calming and grounding presence.
To me the mountains signify being grounded and not being able to be moved by external factors. That’s what I want this production company to be!
What would you advise people interested in entering the entertainment industry?
The best advice I would give someone is to align yourself with people that you know are experts in the industry; that have a good track record. Learn from as many people as you can.I learn as much as I can, talk to as many people as I can, and I study different things to understand what was and wasn’t successful.
As a South Indian American, I am aware of how non-brown Americans view the Indian film industry. One word: Bollywood. Bollywood and the South Indian film industry has always been lumped into the same category as Bollywood, despite the diversity. For Indians, South India is obviously different from North India, but non-brown people assume it would all be the same. This extends beyond Indian cinema; feeding into assumptions regarding other aspects of culture like language, food, and so on. People tend to assume all Indians speak Hindi or eat tikka masala at home rather than trying to understand the diversity of Indian culture. With time, especially with the help of social media, there was more accessibility to understanding the differences among these cultures, yet nothing truly spread across the globe. Then came “RRR.”
“RRR” is a Telugu film from Tollywood. This South Indian film has become a worldwide sensation with its incredible visual effects, captivating plot, and catchy music. I was blown away by the reception this film got in the United States, especially from American film critics who were all praise. What impressed me the most was how more Americans clarified it was not a Bollywood film, and differentiated it as a Tollywood film. The number of people taking the time to learn the difference between Tollywood and Bollywood might seem simple, yet meaningful, nonetheless. South Indian films are incredibly underrated and are finally getting the attention they deserved. It is incredible to see the celebration surrounding the film and what it represents and means to this community and how we get to share it with the world. The hype was real, and then the awards season began.
The Golden Globes top the list of some of the major awards for television and film and it was amazing to hear that “RRR” had been nominated in two categories for this award. Funnily enough in my own world, it aired on my birthday. Then came the moment when Jenna Ortega said “Naatu Naatu, RRR” and the song played as M.M. Keeravani approached the stage to accept his award. This song became the first Asian, not only Indian, song to win the Golden Globe for Best Original Song. The 80th Golden Globes saw many wins for the Asian community with films like “Everything Everywhere All At Once” and “RRR.” There is something beautiful about being South Indian in America and watching a South Indian song win an award in America on one’s birthday. There is a joy in getting to tell my friends, both brown and non-brown, about it and share the song, “Naatu Naatu,” with them. Sure it is Indian, but it is just a bit closer to home, and that closeness stands with a beautiful meaning. When it came to the Critics’ Choice Awards, it was touching to hear about how S.S. Rajamouli grew up with the encouragement of creativity and storytelling. It honestly inspired me to continue my own projects; I hope to see them prosper as well.
After the win at the Golden Globes, the Oscars became highly anticipated for the Indian community, especially when the nominations for Best Original Song were announced. Of course, when the familiar title appeared once again, a victory felt within grasp. “Naatu Naatu” had a couple of big moments at the Academy Awards ceremony: the performance and the win itself. The performance was introduced by the absolutely phenomenal actress, Deepika Padukone, who, too, is s South Indian. Her introduction of the song brought forward the context in which the tune takes place, that is during 1920 under the British colonization of India. She reminded all of us of how significant the song was along with its catchy beat. When it came to the announcement of who won Best Original Song, it was a first-of-its-kind victory given that it was the first time an Indian film won in this category. The speech made by M. M. Keeravani was beautiful as he sang to the tune of “Top of the World” with his own lyrics to take in the moment. It was certainly an extremely proud day to be Indian anywhere in the world, and especially to be a South Indian.
Seeing non-brown folks acknowledging the diversity of Indian culture has been beautiful to witness. The cultural pride of saying an Indian film, specifically a South Indian film, won the Oscar, a Golden Globe for Best Original Song and two Critics’ Choice Awards so far is an absolute joy. Seeing South Indian representation, especially during the awards season, is inspiring for brown creatives. This has been a time of great cultural pride in the South Indian community, and as a South Indian creative myself, I am honored to see it.
Photo Courtesy: Netflix
For any of us who have siblings, the relationship with them can be one of the most fulfilling ones. And also one of the most bloody frustrating. No one can quite stroke the fire like someone who knows you extremely well, or sometimes not, but have a familial bond with that neither one of you chose. In “Polite Society,“directed by Nida Manzoor, sisters Ria Khan and Lena Khan’s loving, sweet, and sometimes tumultuous relationship takes center stage.
Played delightfully by Priya Kansara and Ritu Arya, respectively, the evolution of their relationship is one of the film’s greatest and simultaneously weakest points. It’s also pretty cool to see two South Asian actresses in an action-comedy movie — how refreshing it is to mention the art of choreography and praise it in regards to fight sequences vs. dance sequences for a film centered on two South Asian women — that itself shows progress.
Set in London, Ria is an aspiring stunt woman who already shows massive talent in martial arts. She looks up to her older sister Lena, who is enrolled in art school and, also holds remarkable potential in a somewhat less traditionally acceptable field. Their relationship starts off as supportive and sweet with no inclinations of jealousy or resentment that sometimes plagues sisterly bonds. But this also means that they are quite protective of one another, almost to the detriment of their well wishes for each other.
This all happens when Lena gets engaged after dropping out of art school. Ria feels betrayed. They were supposed to be on this journey together in fighting for their dreams. Ria decides that she knows what’s best for her sister and enlists the help of her friends to rescue the damsel in distress from her own wedding. Her deep animosity towards the prospect of Lena getting married is also fueled by Lena’s fiancé and his mother acting extremely suspiciously. The twist that ultimately brings the two sisters back together is both shocking and weirdly somewhat progressive in the motive behind the villain’s origin story. But the twist, unfortunately, is too ambitious for the movie as it tacks on another genre and theme earnestly, but still clunkily.
“Polite Society” tackles not only what it means to fight for one’s dreams but also what it means to have just one ardent supporter. As Lady Gaga famously said, “There can be 100 people in a room and 99 of them don’t believe in you but all it takes is one and it just changes your whole life.” Well, Ria’s Bradley Cooper was her very own sister who seemed to abandon her, and her faith in her, when she chose a different path. For Lena, the film opened up the question of marriage and the weight it bears in the life of a South Asian woman. Ria’s lack of understanding of the pressure it places on Lena is the start of the change in their relationship — the start of Ria’s coming of age and the start of Lena settling firmly into her adulthood.
Standouts from the cast include Ria’s best friends, played by Seraphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri, who commit to the story and characters with such hilarity and conviction. They add the lightheartedness and playfulness the film needs, and it is refreshing that never once do they use Ria’s cultural background as a way to make fun of her or dismiss her.
It is also heartening to see Lena and Ria’s parents being some of the most supportive South Asian parents seen on screen. At the end of the day, it is not the external family pressure that impacts the decisions made by the sisters but rather their own satisfaction, or lack thereof, with their own lives that become the driving force of their actions.
“Polite Society” is written and directed by a South Asian woman for South Asian women, and is definitely worth a watch when it releases in theaters this April.