Notwithstanding the now infamous slap, the 2022 Academy Awards had many firsts. Among the catalogue of correctives to presumably make up for their decades of rewarding mostly cis-white male creatives—Troy Kotsur became the first deaf male actor to win an Oscar, while Ariana DeBose became the first openly queer woman of colour to win an acting award—there was also the first ever nomination for an Indian documentary: Writing with Fire, a film about Khabar Lahariya, a rural media outlet led by Dalit women. Following months of relentless buzz, a Sundance Award and multiple global accolades, the Oscar nomination came as no surprise to anyone who had been following the documentary since its global release.
In an early conversation I had with the director couple Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh following the nomination, they told me the film’s protagonists were already picking which saris they would wear to the ceremony. Except, on the day of the ceremony, Thomas and Ghosh would walk the famed red carpet alone. None of the journalists from Khabar Lahariya had accompanied them to Los Angeles.
Earlier that week, Khabar Lahariya’s team had released a statement declaring that the documentary, which had taken close to five years to finish, inaccurately represented their journalism. While they acknowledged that the film was a “moving and powerful document,” they asserted that the film had misrepresented them as focussing on just “one political party,” the Bharatiya Janata Party. “We recognise the prerogative of independent filmmakers to present the story that they choose to, but we would like to say that this eclipses the kind of work and the kind of local journalism we have done for twenty years, the reason we are different from other mainstream media of our times,” the statement read. “It is a story which captures a part of ours, and part stories have a way of distorting the whole sometimes.”