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The second annual South Asian Excellence at the Oscars event took place on Thursday night, where stars gathered at Paramount Studios to honor nominees from the likes of RRR, All That Breathes, The Elephant Whisperers and Everything Everywhere All at Once.
The night was hosted by Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Anjula Acharia, with co-chairs Malala Yousafzai, Mindy Kaling, Kumail Nanjiani, Kal Penn, Aziz Ansari, Bela Bajaria, Radhika Jones, Joseph Patel, Shruti Ganguly, and Anita Chatterjee.
The hosts and other notable stars graced the red carpet for the big event, many of them dressed by famed South Asian designers Falguni Shane Peacock, and spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about being a part of the special night. Chopra Jonas, who hosted the inaugural event last year, called this year’s celebration bigger and better.
“Last year’s event came from like-minded people coming together and saying, ‘You know, we should have something where the South Asian community can feel like it’s theirs,” said Chopra Jonas. “The event had such a great response from the community, executives and studios. We had Paramount wanting to host [this year’s event] for us and when you see something like that happen, it’s getting bigger and better every year.”
Looking around the room, the actress added, “These are people whose shoulders we stand on to be able to create this. These are all the guys that are hustling and demanding representation when no one was giving into them. And today we look around at this room and say ‘This is their moment.'”
Host Acharia echoed the actress’ statement, saying, ”When I think of excellence, I think of those people who didn’t get the opportunities that young talent is getting now. People who have really really pushed the scene forward people like Sakina Jaffrey, Poorna Jagannathan, Aasif Mandvi. They still fought to not be sidelined.”
THR also spoke to co-chair Malala Yousafzai, who at just 17 became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Now, the activist is an executive producer of Joshua Seftel’s Stranger at the Gate, a nominee for the best documentary short Oscar.
“For me, South Asian Excellence is the story of every person from South Asia,” Yousafzai said. “It’s the people that have worked for years and years and brought inspiring stories to the screen through their talent. It’s the people who touch our hearts through their artwork, but also the new South Asian artists who are taking a jump to set a higher standard and share their stories as well.”
Yousafzai credited shows like Ms. Marvel and Never Have I Ever for paving the way for more South Asian representation on screen in the future. She also noted her hopes for the next crop of changemakers looking to carve out a space for themselves in the world.
“I would say to all young South Asians to believe in your work and take every opportunity because [the youth] are the ones that can actually change the system,” she said. “Things remain as they are unless someone steps up and challenges it.”
A number of other stars were also on board for the celebration including Bridgerton’s Simone Ashley, Aladdin‘s Naomi Scott, Queer Eye’s Tan France, Never Have I Ever‘s Maitreyi Ramakrishnan and New Girl’s Hannah Simone.
“When I was doing New Girl, we started that over a decade ago and there were only a few of us here then that were getting these opportunities,” remembered Simone. “And so to see this happening tonight is actually kind of emotional because it means that slowly we’ve been building that representation and we deserve to celebrate tonight.”
Actress Freida Pinto summed up how moments like this are hard to come by for the community and shared her excitement to meet some of her South Asian peers for the first time: “I feel like we’ve all been doing our respective jobs in pods never really meeting each other so moments like this are really important that we can all come face to face and celebrate each other and be so proud of coming so far.”
The night also featured performances by Ali Sethi, DJ Rekha and Sway Bhatia, and welcomed guests Nick Jonas, Danny Pudi, Poorna Jagannathan, Meena Harris and Academy president Janet Yang.
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