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A Tamil documentary, "The Elephant Whisperer," won the Oscar under the Best Documentary Short Film category. This film marks the first time an Indian production house has won an Oscar, and director Kartiki Gonsalves and producer Guneet Monga became the first Indian women to receive an Academy Award. This moment is monumental for the South Asian community and all women.
When Gonsalves and Monga stepped on stage to receive the award, Gonsalves used 43 seconds of her acceptance time to express her gratitude. When Monga stepped up to say a few words, she was immediately played off-stage by music. While this is a common practice at award ceremonies, it’s ironic that the Oscars cut off two South Asian women but allowed the following awardees, Matthew Freud and Catelie Mackesy, enough time to express their gratitude.
Silencing women is a thematic practice from political, economic, social, and many other global sectors. If Monga had received the time to share her words, the world would’ve heard her say:
Tonight is historic. This is the first Oscar for any Indian production, and two women here won this. To all the women watching, the future is audacious, the future is us, and the future is here.
In honour of Monga and Women's Heritage Month, I’ve outlined five Tamil women who have made significant contributions on a global scale and deserve recognition for their accomplishments.
Here are five prominent women with a Tamil background, who have positively impacted the world we live in today:
Indra Nooyi is an Indian American business executive best known for her role as the former CEO of PepsiCo. Nooyi was born in Chennai, India, in 1955 and earned a bachelor's degree in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics from Madras Christian College. She went on to earn an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta and a master's degree in public and private management from Yale University.
During Nooyi's tenure at PepsiCo, she oversaw significant growth for the company and led several strategic initiatives, including a shift towards healthier snack options and a focus on sustainability. Nooyi has been recognized for her leadership and business acumen and has been named to Forbes' list of the World's 100 Most Powerful Women multiple times.
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan is a Canadian actress of Sri Lankan Tamil descent who gained prominence for her lead role in the Netflix series "Never Have I Ever" which was created by another incredible woman with a Tamil background, Mindy Kaling.
Ramakrishnan's success in the entertainment industry has brought attention to the Tamil community in Canada and has helped increase the representation of South Asian actors on screen. Her performance in "Never Have I Ever" has been praised for its authenticity and relatability. She has been recognized with several awards and nominations and was featured on the Times cover as one of "The Next 100 Most Influential People."
Ramakrishnan has also used her platform to advocate for causes important to her, such as mental health awareness and gender equality.
Check out our interview with Maitreyi!
Catch episodes of our latest podcast 'Identity'!
- Shakthi / Theatre, Intergenerational Trauma and Australian Tamil Identity
- Identity Podcast: Anuk/ Language, Grief and Tamil Community
- Maral/ Art, Belonging & Armenian-Iraqi-Canadian Identity
- Identity Podcast: Shuba/ Music, Feminism and Dual Identities
Radhika Coomaraswamy is a Tamil Sri Lankan lawyer and human rights advocate who served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women from 1994 to 2003. She's authored reports on different forms of violence and is a vocal advocate for women's rights, engaging with governments to seek clarification and redress in cases of violence against women.
Coomaraswamy has received numerous awards, including the Deshamanya civil honour by the President of Sri Lanka and the International Law Award of the American Bar Association.
M.I.A. (Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam)
M.I.A. is a British rapper, singer, songwriter, and visual artist. She's also an activist and has used her platform to raise awareness about social and political issues, including the plight of the Tamil people during the Sri Lankan civil war. Her activism has earned her recognition and awards, including the 2019 AIM Independent Music Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music.
Overall, M.I.A. is a talented artist and a renowned Tamil influence in the music industry. She’s known for her unique style, politically charged lyrics, and commitment to raising awareness about important social and political issues.
Padma Lakshmi is a Tamil Indian-American television host, actress, model, and author. Throughout her career, she has used her platform to raise awareness about important social and political issues, including immigrant rights and women's health.
Lakshmi has also helped to promote Tamil culture and cuisine through her role as a host and judge on the popular cooking competition show, "Top Chef." She has incorporated her Tamil heritage into her work on the show, often introducing the contestants and viewers to Tamil dishes and ingredients.
The women mentioned above come from diverse professional backgrounds and have impacted the world we live in today through their respective fields. Whether as activists, businesswomen, or humanitarians, each of these women has used their platform to emphasize a similar message about the importance of inclusion.
Many unmentioned Tamil women have made a tremendous impact, paving the way for other women to walk fearlessly. To these women, your efforts do not go unnoticed by the young girls looking up to you because inclusion is a universal language.
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