India's 'Writing with Fire' loses to 'Summer of Soul' in documentary feature Oscar category

The film, India's sole representation at the Academy Awards, was considered a dark horse in the Oscars race with its feel-good story of Khabar Lahariya, India's only newspaper run by Dalit women.

Published: 29th March 2022 12:53 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th March 2022 12:53 AM   |  A+A-

An Oscar statue is pictured underneath the entrance to the Dolby Theatre. (Photo | AP)


LOS ANGELES: "Writing With Fire", the Indian documentary that chronicled the rise of a newspaper run by Dalit women, lost to "Summer of Soul (Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)" in the best documentary feature category at the 94th edition of the Oscars, Hollywood's biggest awards ceremony.

The film, India's sole representation at the Academy Awards, was considered a dark horse in the Oscars race with its feel-good story of Khabar Lahariya, India's only newspaper run by Dalit women.

It is directed by up-and-coming filmmakers Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh.

"Summer of Soul", the winner in the category, is directed by the Roots frontman Ahmir Thompson, best known by his stage name Questlove.

The documentary is backed by David Dinerstein, Robert Fyvolent, and Joseph Patel, an American producer of Indian origin.

For the film, Thompson arranged the never-seen-before archival footage of the Harlem Cultural Festival, celebrating African American music and culture, and promoting Black pride and unity, attended by 300,000 people in the summer of 1969.

The "stunning" win of the movie was about "the marginalised people in Harlem that needed to heal from pain", he said in his acceptance speech.

"It's not lost on me that the story of the Harlem Cultural Festival should have been something that my beautiful mother and my dad should have taken me to when I was five years old," Thompson added.

Overcome by emotion, the musician said Black cultural institutions and expressions are still ignored in contemporary pop culture.

"Just know in 2022, this is not just a 1969 story about marginalised people in Harlem. This is a story of. I'm sorry, I'm just overwhelmed right now," added Thompson.

Like the best picture Oscar winner "CODA", "Summer of Soul" was a festival favourite, winning both the grand jury and audience awards in the US Documentary Competition category upon its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival 2021.

"Writing With Fire", which also had its world premiere at Sundance last year, courted controversy a week ago when the Khabar Lahariya organisation, the subject of the documentary, issued a lengthy statement saying the documentary did not accurately present their story.

It is not immediately clear whether the controversy affected the chances of the film, the winner of the audience award in the World Cinema Documentary category at Sundance, at the Oscars.

Last week, Khabar Lahariya editor Kavita Bundelkhandi said the film portrayed the media collective "inaccurately" by insinuating that it only focuses on reporting on issues surrounding "one political party".

"The documentary portrays our work inaccurately because it shows only a part of what we do, and shows that ours is only about one political party," Bundelkhandi told PTI without naming the political party.

She said they were proud that a documentary was made on their achievements but wished it was a more rounded portrayal.

Win or loss, the nomination in the final five at the Oscars is a huge achievement for the documentary community in India, which has been steadily making a mark for itself in the international festival circles.

And Ghosh had said as much when the nominations were announced in February.

"This is a massive moment for us and for Indian cinema. This film is about fearless Dalit women journalists who are redefining what being powerful means, quintessentially the story of the modern Indian woman," Ghosh had told PTI.

Other nominees in the best documentary feature category were "Ascension", "Attica" and "Flee".


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