Remember when this list of “additional presenters” for this year’s Oscars telecast was unveiled?
My first instinct was to feel pride. Like, holy sh*%balls! Priyanka Chopra is really happening in the U.S.!
Then the second-guessing set in: Of course ABC — which is airing the Oscars telecast — would use it to cross-promote Quantico and their newest prime-time soap darling; of course the Oscars, which is onerously out of touch with diversity and contemporary American values, would reach for all the multi-culti goodwill they could find (also added to the list of presenters now is Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel.)
It’s All About Visibility
Perhaps, you wondered why should we celebrate a desi star only after she’s succeeded in the eyes of white people. Furthermore, isn’t there something wrong with celebrating a desi star if her role is to hand a white person an award? Here’s the thing, though: Priyanka Chopra is no Konkona Sen Sharma or Nandita Das — nor should we expect her to be. She has her sights set on global domination and she’s playing a game that is rigged against performers of color. She isn’t at a level where she can break or bend the rules, yet, so she must operate by its playbook.
On another level: Visibility continues to be important. Representation continues to be important. Sure Chopra is handing out an award to a white performer — one of too many who enjoy preferential treatment above performers of color — but her presence reminds the Oscars’ viewing audience that India is a country that exists, that they need only Google or Wiki Chopra’s name to discover one of the most robust film industries in the world — and if they press on, they’ll find a country with a diverse ecosystem of cultures.
Is it perfect? Lord, no. But it is a start.
The Alternative to the Oscars
But with discussions about representation and diversity, we cannot ignore that the Oscars have definitively become a tradition defined by discrimination. It takes a lot of willful ignorance to overlook the patterns of anti-POC and anti-trans discrimination inherent within the Academy.
Something else we can’t ignore: That talented creators like Ava DuVernay, Ryan Coogler, Janelle Monáe, and Hannibal Burress — among other artists — are using #OscarsSoWhite to make a huge statement. Airing opposite of the Oscars will be #JusticeForFlint — a star-studded event staged to raise money to help Flint citizens rebuild their life after their city’s water crisis.
If you want to tune into the Oscars to catch a glimpse of Chopra (or Patel, or Kerry Washington, or any of the few stars of color the Oscars wrangled in at the last-minute), do it! I probably will.
But don’t lose your entire evening (or mind) to angry-tweeting the telecast. Instead, tune into Revolt for the #JusticeForFlint livecast. There is something reassuring in seeing that while America’s elite fritter away their evening patting themselves on the back for mediocre performances in films nobody will remember several years from now, there is another segment that is using their talent to fix a problem and rebuild a community.