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Barbershop: Nikki Haley And Oscar Nominations


Now it's time for the Barbershop. That's our weekly segment where we gather interesting people who talk about what's in the news and what's on their mind. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this weekend are Ravi Patel. He is an actor, filmmaker and entrepreneur in Los Angeles. He joins us from NPR's Culver City studios. You might know him from that TV show "Grandfathered" or his documentary "Meet The Patels." Hi, Ravi.

RAVI PATEL: Hi, thanks so much for having me.

MARTIN: Glad you could be here. Another welcome to Puneet Ahluwalia - he is a consultant based in Northern Virginia, where he is also very active in the local Republican Party. Welcome, Puneet, thanks for coming over the bridge to D.C.

PUNEET AHLUWALIA: Well, thank you and pleasure to be here.

MARTIN: And last but not least, our good friend Sam Sanders, reporter at NPR Politics. Sam, thank you so much for walking down the hall. I really appreciate it.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Of course, happy to do it.

MARTIN: So we want to start with some political news that's got people from all sides of the aisle fired up, and that is the speech by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Tuesday night. She was selected to deliver the GOP response to the president's State of the Union address. And I want to just play a little bit that blew up on social media. Here it is.


NIKKI HALEY: Today, we live in a time of threats like few others in recent memory. During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.

MARTIN: That was Gov. Nikki Haley giving the GOP response to the present's State of the Union address. Sam, I'm going to start with you because you've been covering this.


MARTIN: Explain what was the drama around this?

SANDERS: So there's, like, two takes on Nikki Haley. The GOP establishment kind of sees her as the great post-Obama hope. She is a woman. She's a person of color. But then you have this base that still needs to be appealed to, and they did not like her response. They thought it was too soft on immigration. They thought it was not good of her to attack Trump, tactically.

MARTIN: This was perceived as a...

SANDERS: As an attack on Trump.

MARTIN: ...Shot on Donald Trump.

SANDERS: Yeah. So, like, there were kind of two wings of Twitter. In the conservative base, the #DeportNikkiHaley trended. It started with Ann Coulter making the statement on Twitter. But then that hashtag took off. And people were saying things about her that had a racial tinge to them. And then on the other side, I saw this response from Indian-Americans. And this hashtag called #IndianAmericanSouthernGovernorName trended, and some Indian-Americans mocked away that she uses the name Nikki now and not her birth name. So you've got - like, on the one hand, she's not brown enough. On the other hand, she's too brown for some people. She kind of couldn't catch a break in that regard.

MARTIN: Interesting. Puneet, you are a fan, right, 'cause you actually went down to help out on her first...


MARTIN: ...Campaign for governor. She's since been reelected. Tell us about - how is this sitting with you? Did you - were you aware of this, by the way, all this hubbub around...

AHLUWALIA: Well, very much. In fact, being in politics, you always watch what's going on. But I think - let's take to it - I think the core group - the fundamental of the Republican Party - she identified and defined that. She tells her story. At the same time, she also says look, we're going through trying times, which we are. And the last seven years, which she pointed out in her speech, has been very tough on middle Americans, a lot of hard-working frustrated Americans who cannot really find a way to get back to good times. And we've gone through home financial crisis, families have broken apart. It's been challenging times. And what she was trying to portray and share is a softer side of the Republican Party, which we've never been able to message very - in a - articulate it in an effective way. I think she did a phenomenal job. And yes, we have the right to speak what our minds, say, and it didn't sit with well with certain people. Well, that's fine; but the good thing is she was being inclusive and together. And if you see her remarks after that, she said no, I just want to basically be an inclusive party. And that's what she was trying to get out.

MARTIN: What do you make of the blowback though?

AHLUWALIA: Look, she's taken some solid actions in the South - brought businesses back and then took down the flag. She's done some positive things, and that's a reason why Reince Priebus, the RNC chairman, and Mitch McConnell both felt that she is the new face and the new messenger of the Republican Party.

SANDERS: But the question is...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Sam.

SANDERS: ...Does the base want to see that face?


SANDERS: The base of the party in this election is very angry, and she's trying to present a face that is not that angry.

MARTIN: Let me get Ravi in here. Ravi, do you a dog in this fight? Go ahead.

PATEL: Is she - isn't she born in South Carolina? Am I wrong about that?

AHLUWALIA: I don't know. I think she is.

MARTIN: Yeah, she is. Yeah.

PATEL: So, I mean - I mean, I'm just thinking, like, this hashtag of deporting her in and of itself is racist.

MARTIN: Well, yeah.

PATEL: I mean, and it...

MARTIN: (Laughter) I mean, well, yeah. Go ahead, Ravi.

PATEL: Yeah, I mean, I just think hashtag itself is racist. I think what this whole debate is - is based upon is this growing populous of scared and angry bigots in this country. And she's very - I mean, any reasonable person who's a part of the Republican Party wants to separate themselves from that movement. I mean, she is going to be the future of that party whether - you know, whether the base likes it or not.

SANDERS: I think that remains to be seen.

MARTIN: But Ravi, let me ask you this. The whole - the other side of it that Sam highlighted, which is some people saying, you know, you Anglicized your name - you know, so what do you make of that?

PATEL: Yeah. I mean, I think first and foremost, she shouldn't feel pressured to be anyone but herself. And if she identifies herself as someone who's, you know, just an everyday South Carolinian, then she has no responsibility to other Indians. Now, me personally, my name, for example, on the TV show that I'm on is the same as my real name, which is Ravi. They mispronounce it Ravi. I made a whole thing about it because I didn't want to be the Indian who is mispronouncing his name. And, you know, maybe there's another Ravi who's 8 years old out there who decides because he sees the name Anglicized that he should be doing the same. But that's a battle that I wanted to fight because it's important to me, and that's who I want to be to the Indian community. For her, that's not a fight that she's choosing. And by the way, she may have decided to go by the name Nikki - I don't know if you guys have been to South Carolina that much, but I grew up in Charlotte. I can tell you that is a very hard place to be brown. And if she was able to change her name and be a little bit happier, God bless her.

SANDERS: Yeah. And here's the thing, people of all races from all over the place get nicknames. You know, I mean, like, nicknames happen. We should - like, we can't always...

PATEL: Yeah.

SANDERS: ...Assume because someone takes on a nickname that it is for these bigger, larger reasons.

PATEL: We all do it. I mean, we've all come to the point where we've decided - like, in my case, do I want to go by Rob? Should I be Rob? No, doesn't make sense for me.

AHLUWALIA: Ravi, you know...

MARTIN: Puneet, go ahead.

AHLUWALIA: ...When I came here, in fact, a lot of people wanted me to change my name. And of course, if you - my name Puneet Ahluwalia - God, it's a singsong name...

PATEL: Yeah, what name were you workshopping?


SANDERS: Workshopping (laughter).

AHLUWALIA: I didn't choose to change my name because I felt like people who know me for who I am and how I am. The fact is, you know, it all depends on how people want to fit in. And I think as we are a country of liberty and your choice, it's up to you what you decide to do in the end.

SANDERS: And we do have a president who's named Barack.

AHLUWALIA: Yeah, exactly.

MARTIN: OK, let me ask you about one other topic that's kind of hot on the block this week, especially on social media, which is the Oscar nominations were just announced. Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, the usual suspects for actor and actress. And the surprise, if you want to call it that, is who's not on the nominations list, by which I mean

any actors of color. A lot of people thought that Idris Elba got cheated. This was the same issue last year that got a lot of people hot on the block. So Ravi, I've got to ask you since you're out there - this is your field - are people talking about this?

PATEL: Yeah, I think people are talking about it. But I don't think people are necessarily surprised. I mean, look, I got a really good look at the system just through, you know, my documentary "Meet The Patels," which was one of the highest-grossing docs of the year. And - and...

SANDERS: I love that movie.

PATEL: Thank you so much.


PATEL: Thank you so much.

MARTIN: Sam is a fan.


MARTIN: We all are, but I'm being objective. I'm not telling you how much I liked it because I'm maintaining objectivity, just...

SANDERS: I'm going to tell you, I loved it. I loved it.

MARTIN: OK, go ahead.

PATEL: I appreciate your integrity. Yeah, Sam on the other hand...

MARTIN: Anyway tell us about it, you were saying the process - yeah.

PATEL: One of the things I learned is that these awards are all bought. I mean, it's just like politics. It's there's a strong correlation between who wins...

AHLUWALIA: I disagree.

PATEL: ...And how much money was spent - yeah, there's a - are you telling me in politics there's not a correlation between how much is spent and who wins?

AHLUWALIA: Look at Jeb Bush. He raised so much money. Where is he at?

PATEL: I'm saying answer the question. Is there a strong correlation between how much money is spent and the outcome of the race - on the outcome of the races?

AHLUWALIA: I think...

PATEL: You can't deny that.

AHLUWALIA: No, Ravi, talent, of course - I think the other way it looks at is the rich movie really garners the most box office hits and the talent. And how clear is that exist there that brings people - go ahead.

SANDERS: And with the Academy, it's about who lobbies for the awards. Like, there was a year that I think Eddie Murphy was up for "Dreamgirls." He didn't lobby in the way that you do to get the award. And it was part of why he didn't win the Oscar - people say, right?

MARTIN: OK, but then there was Denzel Washington won twice, you know, Halle Berry won and Viola Davis just won a big award at the Emmys. And a lot of people are just saying how is it possible - I guess what's the deal? I mean, is it the same old, same old? Has anything changed? Has anything changed?

PATEL: I think things have changed and are changing. Obviously, it's not a good sign that we were looking at an all-white nominees here. But, you know, I just think awards because they're subjective are something that you can only view as a positive if it happens for you and not a negative if it doesn't. I think specifically when we talk about race - which, by the way, the bigger issue to me is the gender, where we have, you know, 9 percent female-directed films last year - I care more about that, honestly. But when it comes to race, my question would be who is it that got snubbed? Because I think it has more to do with us not putting people of color in greater positions of power in these films.


SANDERS: And like Viola Davis said, if the roles aren't there, you can't play them.


SANDERS: And, like, how many high-caliber roles are being carved out for people of color to play? And, like, I haven't watched a lot of the films that people thought should be in contention, but I did see "Concussion." And Will Smith's performance in that movie and the movie itself was not Oscar caliber, you know? And it's like we can't...

PATEL: I would say the same for the guys from "Straight Outta Compton," even though I loved that movie. I loved it.

SANDERS: We can't expect Oscar nominations for people of color when the films and the roles are not there. And that's...

PATEL: Yeah.

SANDERS: ...A larger issue than just the Academy Awards, and it's an issue that we know about all year. So to have this hashtag trend every year at the same time, we knew about this.

PATEL: But let me ask you this...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Ravi.

PATEL: What did you guys think of - have you guys seen "Joy?" I thought the movie was so intensely mediocre. I love Jennifer Lawrence. I think she's one of the best actresses in the world.

SANDERS: I never saw it for Jennifer Lawrence, but that's just me.

PATEL: I (laughter)...

SANDERS: Can I say that?

PATEL: Yeah, of course, it's very welcome.

MARTIN: Yeah, I'm not going to invite you to my birthday party, where she's going to be my guest-of-honor. But that's, you know...


MARTIN: Sure, you can say that. But yeah - yeah, I like Jennifer Lawrence, but I - well, anyway - all right, I'm going to give Puneet the last word. Do you care? Do you follow this stuff? You're the civilian here.

AHLUWALIA: I don't want to make more about this. I think it is what it is, and I think - I love "The Martian." I loved Leonardo's role, and...

MARTIN: You're not confusing Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, are you?

AHLUWALIA: No, I'm not.

MARTIN: OK, I'm just making sure that we weren't having a little reverse...

SANDERS: Are you saying they all look alike, Michel?

MARTIN: I was not. I'm just making sure that...

PATEL: It is about the money though. But the issue is that there's a disconnect between the consumers and the filmmakers, and that disconnect are the gatekeepers - the distributors, the execs. And those people are mostly white.

MARTIN: All right, that's - we have to leave it there for now. That's Ravi Patel, NPR reporter Sam Sanders and Puneet Ahluwalia all here in our Barbershop. Thank you all so much.

SANDERS: Thank you.

AHLUWALIA: Thank you.

PATEL: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sam worked at Vermont Public Radio from October 1978 to September 2017 in various capacities – almost always involving audio engineering. He excels at sound engineering for live performances.
Sam Sanders
Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.