“It’s a very emotional night for me,” said Priyanka Chopra Jonas on her way into a lavish cocktail party on Thursday night. “I have never looked around in my 12 years of working in Hollywood and in entertainment in America and seen so many South Asians connected to the Oscars.”
It has indeed been a historic awards season for people of Asian descent—for the first time ever, four Asian actors have received Oscar nominations in a single year, in addition to a number of Asian directors, screenwriters, and musicians being nominated as well. To celebrate, Chopra Jonas and her manager, Anjula Acharia, hosted Thursday night’s South Asian Excellence at the Oscars, a celebration that evolved into an electrifying evening.
“It’s very special to be at a party to honor my peers and celebrate them,” Chopra Jonas continued. “This is a community that has given a lot for many years in many ways, and it’s our time to shine.”
To kick off the party, Chopra Jonas stood underneath the famed Paramount Pictures studio gate—with her husband, Nick Jonas, close by—and gave a heartfelt toast to thank all the Oscar nominees and distinguished guests in attendance, including Mindy Kaling and Aziz Ansari, for fighting against stereotypes and for allowing South Asians to be seen and heard both in front of the camera and behind. She then invited Rafiq Bhatia, whose band, Son Lux, is nominated for best original score for Everything Everywhere All at Once, to speak. Then international activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai took the stage and thanked Chopra Jonas for the invitation. Yousafzai is an executive producer of the Oscar-nominated documentary short Stranger at the Gate, which VF’s awards experts have tipped as the predicted winner.
“It’s pretty insane to be nominated this soon,” Yousafzai said on the arrivals carpet. “I still have so much to learn about Hollywood and making films. I’m still working on my dress and I can’t wait to reveal it. I am just excited to enjoy the moment and meet all the incredible people there. I mean, just imagining all the nominees will be there, and to know I’ll be sitting with them—it’s so crazy.”
Yousafzai added that she is most looking forward to meeting Rihanna and watching her perform “Lift Me Up” from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever during the telecast. “I mean, Rihanna is a legend. I am a huge fan. I am just so grateful that I get to see her onstage and hear her sing. There’s nothing better—well, maybe winning the Oscar!”
“I’ve never been to anything like this before,” said Bridgerton star Simone Ashley inside the event. “It’s so overwhelming and I feel inspired. Being here with a community who are dark-skinned like myself, it seems anything is possible. Our community is loving and caring and capable of fulfilling roles and positions within this industry. I am deeply proud of my heritage and culture.”
Freida Pinto, who starred in 2009’s best-picture winner, Slumdog Millionaire, said she is thrilled that opportunities for South Asian artists have increased in the past decade. “So often South Asians work and operate singularly in our parts. We’ve never done this together as a community until now. This is new for us and we are breaking that shackle,” she said. “We are saying, here we are. We are one community and we are a global entertainment. Not entertainment just for India, not entertainment for America, but global entertainment. You don’t succeed if you only are looking out for yourself, and that is why community is important. We have to empower others and lift up every member of the community.”