From awards to many firsts for the Black and Brown communities, 2022 has seen some radical changes as far as the inclusivity-diversity narrative goes. I look back on the year that passed by from the standpoint of movies, shows, and beyond ...
On a chilly winter evening, in a hamlet perched atop mountains—I was evidently struggling to decipher the complex topic of inclusivity in Hollywood—I asked who I thought is the most unbiased member of my family what diversity means to her: a young cousin. “Say, I have my own friends and have never played with the girls from that other village but they still take me in. That’s when I would feel included,” said the cousin. She is all of seven.
While the ever-evolving subject of diversity and inclusiveness in cinema, especially in Hollywood, is labelled as ‘moot’ by some, others take joy in just knowing that slowly but surely, we are headed towards a Hollywood-for-all model. Using that logic, in this regard, I reckon it is safe to say that Squid Game’s Lee Jung-jae becoming the first Asian-native Korean to win the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series at the 2022 Emmys Awards was more than a historic feat—he opened the flood gates for other people of color to follow, reinstating hope in actors who wouldn’t have otherwise made it past the habitual ‘take-note’ character roles in Hollywood.
Speaking of which, Michelle Yeoh’s first Oscars’ Best Actress nomination (for Everything Everywhere All At Once) after devoting decades in the business only goes on to show that the outrage pertaining to the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag that had erupted back in 2015, is finally yielding the much-desired outcome. A similar change seems to be panning out a little farther from the Southeastern territory as the sudden-but-nonetheless-welcome interest in South Asian movies, especially the Oscar nominated magnum opus RRR, debunks what the rest of the world has been assuming about Indian movies all along: that we are all about the melodrama; more fluff and less substance. Hollywood, therefore, is shifting its focus not just in terms of pushing the representation conversation forward, but also acknowledging the contributions of those who have been fighting the good fight for far too long.
In the domain of inclusion, the predominantly white army of superheroes are making way for their Black and Brown brothers to rise, shine and conquer. Case in point: Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) first South Asian female superhero in Ms. Marvel series is Iman Vellani, a Pakistani-Canadian actress. Likewise, Black Panther’s now-deceased star Chadwick Boseman’s character in the film resonated with billions of people around the world for it not only had a Black man at the center of it all, but also highlighted the rich African culture in a celebratory tone. It’s sequel Wakanda Forever, too, broke barriers in its own right. Yes, the film, headlined by an all-Black star cast, made 1.3 billion worldwide, but the bigger win here is that the film’s mass appeal also prompted its makers to hold a premiere show in Nigeria: a first for Marvel Studios.
No discussion around racial fairness can ever be complete without the mention of streaming services and all the commendable work they have done in the inclusivity-diversity space in cinema. Netflix’s Bridgeton Season 2 had a very-brown Simone Ashley (Indian-British actress previously seen in a smaller role in Sex Education; again, Netflix) paired up with Jonathan Bailey. Likewise, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan—a Canadian actress of Indian origin—has been successfully shouldering the responsibility of Mindy Kaling’s awkward-teenage-phase-on-display brainchild, Never Have I Ever, for many seasons now.
Granted, the gamut of inclusivity stretches far beyond the acting space and there’s significant work that needs to be done in terms of representation in other departments as well. But, for now, one can seek comfort from the fact that as long as the Quinta Brunsons (Best Writing for a Comedy Series/ Emmys 2022) and Zendayas of the world are celebrated for their groundbreaking work in writing and acting respectively, there will always be that flickering hope that change can truly be everlasting.
As I wrap this piece up, my mind transports me back to what SUGA, K-Pop band BTS’ member, had said at the White House back in June—another first for the South Korean community, by the way—that perfectly sums up what people of color have been demanding all this while, as they silently awaited their turn in line:
“It's not wrong to be different. We think equality begins when we open up and embrace all of our differences.” The diaspora couldn’t agree more.