As the clamour over the lack of black nominees at the Oscars grows louder, we examine whether affirmative action (reservations) has a place in artAt the outset, heartfelt apologies to everyone who looked at the title and felt this was an article on Michelle Yeoh’s blockbuster film which is a frontrunner for the Academy Award in many categories. Rather, the motivation for this feature stems from a recent statement made by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the director of the successful historic drama ‘The Woman King’ that found itself completely shut out of the Academy Awards, despite landing several precursor nominations across other prestigious awards bodies and craft institutions. The rejection stung Gina enough to write a column for the ‘Hollywood Reporter’ in which she said the Academy by giving no representation to the ‘African-Americans’ in its nominations made a very loud statement that was difficult to ignore. Later, speaking to ‘Variety’ Gina said, “We know the issues exist but they felt amplified this year. There’s no denying that people are more aware now of what is happening after my opinion appeared in print. The response has been really amazing and even companies are sharing it.” She further added, “My hope is change. It can’t just be talking about it and then forgetting it, because that’s what happens cyclically. We need concrete change.”Also trending on social media is the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite again. Sitting here in India, it is not fair to be passing a commentary on the American eco system and social justice. But we do have a synonym for the racism of the West which in our country translates to ‘casteism’. What happens in Hollywood percolates to Indian cinema and it’s only a matter of time before a similar outcry erupts in our nation regarding the representation of the so-called marginalized communities in cinema. Which brings us to the key question: If cinema is a work of art and highly subjective going by that yardstick, is it fair to equate it with other streams of society and bring in a kind of affirmative action into the process in the name of social justice? Digressing a bit here, let’s take a look at the 67th Academy Award nominations for Best Picture in 1995. The movies nominated were Forrest Gump, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show and The Shawshank Redemption. The Award went to Forrest Gump, but there were many people who felt that one of the other films should have been the winner. Can there be a template for judging a work of art? And what would have been the reaction if one of the other films was helmed by a black director? Instead of art being cherished, glorified and appreciated, it would have become more or less a fiery debate on discrimination, right? But the counter argument is that with cinema being a part of society and not a domain unto itself, is it not equally binding on the medium to ensure a level playing field? Absolutely! But this is where the crux of the debate lies! Every person regardless of his race, religion, ethnicity, language, caste, creed etc. should have an equal opportunity to realize his full potential in his chosen field of endeavor. But, social justice cannot come to mean that the end result is a privilege which because of historical reasons should now be handed on a platter to a specific few for the sake of propriety. Can the current generations be held accountable for any perceived crimes of the forefathers? In that sense, ‘reservations’ to a section would mean discrimination against the rest. Meritocracy and equality of opportunity should be the only yardsticks for a healthy, thriving society. ‘Reservations’ only serve to accentuate the differences instead of acting as a bridge between the people and in India at least, there seems to be no end in sight to this policy of the disadvantaged claiming ‘everything, everywhere, all at once’ that is sucking the life blood of the nation. Assuming that a hundred films are made every year in Tollywood, the day might not be far off when rules are made stipulating that 25% of those films should be directed by SC/ST’s, 25% reserved for BC’s etc. This would also apply to all the artistes and technicians involved with the projects thereby speeding up the process of creating an ‘egalitarian’ industry. This is not entirely an unlikely scenario. For example, the government of Andhra Pradesh has already taken over the ticketing business of theatres in the State. So, who’s to say that they will not usher in the above ‘reforms’ where vote bank politics dictate the needs of the hour and populism takes precedence over real progress? Hopefully art will not be subjected to political agendas and retain its autonomy thereby fulfilling its function of helping the populace to transcend to higher dimensions or simply entertain, either of which are equally important.