What the Academy Class of 2019 Means for South Asian Representation in Film

[Photo Source: Instagram / Archie Panjabi, The Academy & Zoya Akhtar]

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences just announced their newest members for the Class of 2019. Accepted creatives and filmmakers include:

  • Anupam Kher (Actor) – If you don’t know who this is then I’m revoking your Brown Card
  • Anurag Kashyap (Producer) – “Madly,” “Bombay Talkies,” “Sacred Games
  • Arjun Ramamurthy (Executive)20th Century Fox
  • Archie Panjabi (Actor) “A Mighty Heart,” “The Constant Gardener,” “The Good Wife”
  • David Singh (Executive) – Marketing & Public Relations, Solstice Studios
  • Nisha Ganatra (Director) – “Transparent,” “Better Things,” “Late Night
  • Pavani Rao Boddapati (Visual Effects) – “Alita: Battle Angel,” “The BFG”
  • Ritesh Batra  (Writer) – “Photograph,” “The Lunch Box
  • Shamim Sarif (Director) – “Despite the Falling Snow,” “The World Unseen”
  • Srinivas Mohan (Visual Effects) – “2.0.,” “Baahubali: The Beginning”
  • Zoya Akhtar (Director) – “Gully Boy,” “Made in Heaven”


Along with adding more diversity to a primarily white (male) class of creatives, the greatest evolution in the Academy’s 2019 list of South Asians is the diversity in branches. Last year, the list was top-heavy with actors, whereas this year it had a variety of occupations including directors, producers, and visual effects creatives. We had a good spread of directors, producers, and even two visual effects creatives. Is this what the hip kids call “progress?” I think so!!

But today’s analysis doesn’t end here. For those who are not in the entertainment industry, below is a guide for how to emotionally and logically interpret the Academy’s 2019 list of South Asian names.

1. The Inner-Workings of the Academy…

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a global organization whose members, collectively, are supposed to be representative of the international film landscape. Admission into the Academy is obtained through sponsorship via two existing members from within the branch they are seeking admission.


In that same regard, we should understand that although the Academy brands itself with a “global” label, it’s painfully obvious that that’s not the case. Winning an “Oscar” has no real political/social capital in any other major film industry other than Hollywood. You will notice that people who win Oscars, especially debut directors, writers, etc. get more work within Hollywood when they win, i.e., Barry Jenkins and Damien Chazelle.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali, on the other hand, doesn’t need to win an Oscar to get more work in Bollywood. This is a reminder of where to focus our push for South Asian representation when it comes to the Academy. As much as the fangirl in me hopes the amazing musicians and filmmakers of India will one day be formally accepted, we should focus our push on those who are actively trying to break into the Hollywood feature space.

2. Reasons to Feel Proud…

We have seen a notable increase in South Asian acceptance into the Academy over the past couple of years with many South Asian cross overs (i.e. Zoya Akhtar and Irrfan Khan), and it feels fantastic. There is no formal application process, which means acceptance is contingent on reputation within the business and recognition.


Acceptance of any scale within the entertainment industry should never be taken lightly. The more South Asian names we add to the Academy list, the more potential we have to multiply — like weeds or… Dandelions? Not a perfect comparison, but you get the gist.

3. Why We Should Never Feel Complacent

As South Asian creatives, there is no room for our pride to evolve into complacency. 842 creatives were invited into the 2019 Academy Class, and South Asian representation did not even hit double digits. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the organization should have approximately 9,226 members (not including this year’s class) in total, but only 16 percent of those members are of color (which is up 8 percent since 2015). God knows what percent of those people are of South Asian descent. Now, we all know the proverb “slow and steady (supposedly) wins the race.” But, it seems even the turtles are passing us in this race.

[Read Related: An Oscar Nomination For Dev Patel Isn’t Proof Of South Asian Progress in Hollywood — But It’s A Start]

So, we should never be complacent — if we want to see a change in the landscape of films we brand with prestige in Hollywood, it’s important for viewers to go to theaters and watch the movies by the filmmakers they want to support. Numbers and views are important. Now’s the time to make South Asian creators popular to the point that denying them would just be downright stupid.

By Nikitha Menon

Nikitha Menon (Nikki) hails from the obscure and snow-ridden Erie, Pennsylvania and has always had a passion for comedy and … Read more ›

‘The Romantics’: Revisiting the Legacy and Grandeur of Yash Chopra With Filmmaker Smriti Mundhra

The Romantics

If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking. 

I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.

— Smriti Mundhra

As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.

In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.

For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.


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At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.

In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.

By Nida Hasan

Editor by profession, writer by passion, and a mother 24/7, Nida is a member of Brown Girl Lifestyle's editing team … Read more ›