Tag Archives: film

Blog Post Blizzard

I have too many interesting articles to share with you and so little time.  So, in honor of the snowcalypse in the Midwest, here’s a blizzard of fabulous things to read.  Choose your poison:

 

Why Keeping Little Girls Squeaky Clean Could Make Them Sick – NPR

WESTLAND, MI – JULY 6: Hannah Rose Akerley, age 7, of Grosse Point Park, Michigan, gets some relief from the heat by playing in a gigantic lake of mud at the annual Mud Day event July 6, 2010 in Westland, Michigan. The lake was created by mixing 20,000 gallons of water with 200 tons of topsoil. The event, which is sponsored by the Wayne County Parks Department, draws about 1,000 children each year. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

 

Middle Eastern and North African Protests Shatter Myths About Muslim Women – Ms. Magazine

Young people are coming out in full force to fight for democracy, and women are at the forefront of these protests, breaking a huge stereotype that Muslim women passive, voiceless or apathetic.

 

THIS PICTURE IS SO BADASS!!!

 

 

Beauty and the Double Standard of Aging – Sociological Images

Today I had the pleasure of reading a 1978 essay by Susan Sontag titled The Double Standard of Aging. I was struck by how plainly and convincingly she described the role of attractiveness in men’s and women’s lives: “For women, only one standard of female beauty is sanctioned: the girl. ”

 

Brisenia Flores, Another Nine-Year-Old Girl, Was Shot and Killed in Arizona – Village Voice

Brisenia Flores, 9, was killed on May 30, 2009, when a group led by anti-immigration fighter Shawna Forde raided the girl’s family home in the border town of Arivaca, Arizona. Allegedly, the attack was organized in the name of the Minutemen, a crew of vigilante border patrols, who hoped to steal money and drugs to fund their revolution against immigration. The Flores household was attacked mistakenly, for they had no drugs or money, but according to reports, Forde and her cronies commenced to shoot Brisenia’s father in the head, killing him, before wounding her mother and eventually, shooting Brisenia in cold blood…

 

 

 

The Black Power Mixtape – Democracy Now

We broadcast from Park City, Utah, home of the Sundance Film Festival, the nation’s largest festival for independent cinema. One of this year’s selections that is creating a lot of buzz is a documentary called The Black Power Mixtape. The film features rare archival footage shot between 1967 and 1975 by two Swedish journalists and was discovered in the basement of Swedish public television 30 years later. We speak with renowned actor and activist Danny Glover, who co-produced The Black Power Mixtape.

 

Oscar nominations an all-white affair – The Gazette

It’s a wonder that the security guards at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences didn’t stop Mo’Nique and make her show ID when she arrived to help announce the Oscar nominations early Tuesday at the organization’s Beverly Hills headquarters. After all, she was the only person of colour involved with the extravaganza, since the 83rd annual Oscar nominations have the dubious distinction of being an all-white affair…

 

 

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Precious Swan – Ms. Magazine

“Precious Swan” by Janell Hobson

[Spoilers included.] There is a painful scene in the critically acclaimed 2009 movie Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, which shows our titular heroine (played by Oscar-nominated Gabourey Sidibe) gazing into a mirror and imagining a slender white girl gazing back at her. In the mind of Precious, a 16-year-old poor, black, obese survivor of abuse, she longs to be someone who is her polar opposite–a figure who is beloved and far removed from the sexual abuse that she suffers.

So imagine, then, watching a more recently acclaimed film–Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, starring Golden Globe winner Natalie Portman–and finding yet another young woman, Nina Sayers, horrified by her own image. Unlike the obese and impoverished Precious Jones, though, Nina is the epitome of beauty and white femininity: an anorexic-thin ballerina, whose chance to shine in the spotlight is nonetheless threatened by darker forces.

Despite their obvious racial, class, physical, and geographic differences (Precious resides in Harlem; Nina lives on the Upper West Side), both women dwell in gloomy apartments heavy with the air of maternal oppression. These heroines could actually be each other’s double–a theme dramatically explored  in Black Swan. See, both Precious and Nina suffer from mother-daughter sex abuse, a topic that few have discussed publicly even though both films received widespread attention when they opened in theaters. How much of our reluctance has to do not only with the subject matter but also with how each film chooses to tell their stories? How do these stories, and our own responses to them, reflect racial constructions around motherhood and family dysfunction?

When Precious opened last year to critical acclaim and big box office, the main debates surrounding the film concerned the demonization of Precious’s mother Mary (played by Oscar-winning Mo’Nique). Black audiences were quick to point out that Mary was a stereotypical distortion of black motherhood, while others chose to view the story through a sociological lens. We could point to the family’s impoverished conditions as the cause for its dysfunction, as well as to the sexist treatment both Precious and Mary received from the absentee father, who took off from the household after twice impregnating Precious and giving her HIV, thus sparking Mary’s envy and resentment toward her own daughter. This is the pathological black family writ large.

But poverty is just part of the problem, as we witness a similar dysfunctional family in Black Swan, in which Nina and her mother Erica (played by Barbara Hershey) live in a relatively spacious and middle-class apartment in New York City. In this story, there is no mention of the absentee father, which might suggest that single-mother-headed households are viewed as deviant across racial and class lines.  However, black dysfunction is often reduced to sociology, while white dysfunction is reduced to psychology.  It’s not surprising that most conversations about Black Swan focus on how “crazy” and “psychotic” Nina became towards the movie’s end, while few have named the source for her mental decline. In other words, few recognize Nina as a victim of incest, the way we immediately recognize Precious’s victimization.

Granted, it’s rather difficult to not talk about Mary as a sexual predator when director Lee Daniels left little to the imagination (depicting Mary in bed pleasuring herself before calling for Precious to “come take care of Mama”), while Aronofsky overwhelmed Black Swan with surrealism, Swan Lake allegories and ambiguous shots. As a result, the abuse that Nina suffers can only be hinted at (such as depicting Erica calling out to her daughter, “Sweetie, are you ready for me?,” right after we witness Nina exploring ways to keep her mother out of her room).  Even here, the racial differences in the heroines are highlighted. Precious is expected to serve as the sexual aggressor while Nina is expected to be passive as she awaits her mother in bed.

Moreover, there is a certain ease in blatantly depicting a black mother as monstrous and depraved, while the pathology of the white mother, whose interaction with her daughter is one of suffocating love rather than outright hatred, can only be suggestive and viewed as “creepy” (as in, she is definitely “not the norm,” even if Aronofsky invokes ethnic stereotypes of “pushy Jewish mothers”).

Even more telling in the conversations we are having about Black Swan is the fetishistic treatment of white women’s bodies, which distracts us from some of the deeper themes explored. For instance, the infamous lesbian sex scene, which had audiences buzzing even before the movie debuted, is a cover for the sex abuse Nina experiences. It’s important to note that, after this scene (which is later revealed to be an Ecstasy-induced fantasy), Nina’s attitude towards her mother changes from fear and resentment to outright disgust,  leaving us to question if she had been having sex not with Lily (played by Mila Kunis)–another dancer whom she views as a rival–but with her own mother. It is this disgust that leads to her mental deterioration, her rage (which I interpret as a “healthy” response to abuse) and her eventual embrace of the passionate and sensuous Black Swan role that she must master in her debut performance as the Swan Queen.

Because Nina’s abuse remains an unspoken and haunting presence in the film, she cannot find healing. And this is where the narratives in Precious and Black Swan diverge.  Even as they tell similar stories of how some daughters suffer unspeakable abuse at the hands of their mothers, we tend to romanticize the story of the black survivor and the white victim. If Precious can find salvation and liberation in an alternative school, where she learns to write and encounters self-empowered women such as her teacher and other students like herself, Nina’s education leads to the exact opposite: She can only find self-destruction in art, similarly abusive authority figures (such as her ballet instructor) and female rivalry versus feminist support and friendship. Lily comes closest to being a friend, except Nina’s paranoid fantasies, which confuse Lily with her mother, turn her into a threat.

While I realize Aronofsky would rather eschew feminist liberation for his nihilistic fixation on death and madness (a recurring theme throughout his movies), I prefer my own imagined alternate ending for Nina. In my story, she survives her deep wounds, seeks psychiatric treatment and eventually joins a New York City survivors group.  There, she might encounter a Precious–both women automatically dismissing each other at first as being too different from themselves. Then they share their stories and realize how easily they could be each other’s double.

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Disney’s New Gendered Directions

Sorry, guys – no time for a real post today.  Why don’t you tell me what you think about the following posts from Ms. Magazine:

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Disney’s Male Execs To Stop Making Movies Starring Girls : Ms Magazine Blog by Margot Magowan

At first it seems like possible good news. Disney/ Pixar announces: no more fairy tales, code for princess movies. Great! No more damsels in distress who end the movie by landing a man.

Now we’re going to have a slew of new movies with cool girl heroes who bravely rescue boys from peril, exuding power and beauty by performing all kinds of risk-taking tasks and challenges. But, no.

First of all, the reason the fairy tale movies are stopping is because Disney/ Pixar executives have decided that little girls aren’t worth making movies for at all.

The Los Angeles Times reports the fairy tale movies “appealed to too narrow an audience: little girls. This prompted the studio to change the name of its Rapunzel movie to the gender-neutral ‘Tangled’ and shift the lens of its marketing to the film’s swashbuckling male costar, Flynn Rider.”

Can you imagine if Disney decided to shut down a genre because it only appealed to little boys? Or if they switched a movie title so it wouldn’t risk highlighting a male star?

Read on!

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Disney’s Gender Roles Remain Un-Tangled by Natalie Wilson

The good news is that Disney’s new animated feature Tangled is funny, fast-paced and visually stunning.

The bad news is that it re-hashes the same old story: As a woman, you can either be a princess awaiting her prince or an evil stepmother/witch; as a man, you get all the action (in many senses of the word). And beauty, of course, equals white, blonde, thin and young.

Keeping in mind Disney’s recent announcement that after Tangled they won’t be making any more princess films, one can see Tangled as a transitional movie, an indication of where Disney’s future is headed…

To this end, Disney brought in a new directorial team in 2008 to overhaul the planned Rapunzel and “wring the pink out of it,” as the Los Angeles Times aptly put it.

The resultant Tangled, with a non-heroine title, more action and a platoon of mega-muscular-man characters (in contrast to only two key females–Rapunzel and the evil Mother Gothel), bodes ill for Disney’s post-princess era.  While one blogger has called this a “gender neutral makeover,” it seems to me more of a masculinist makeover.

Read on!

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The Bechdel Test – A Female Presence in Film

I imagine a corresponding test to determine intelligent male presence would have to be:

1) Have two or more men with names

2) Have these guys not sexually objectify or harass any women

Good luck.

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“Secretariat”: A gorgeous, creepy American myth

I love Renaissance fairs.  I love eating in old-school diners.  I love going to Medieval Times.  I love playing history.  However, this history is biased and skewed.


Pappy's in Purdue's Student Union; Craig Davison/Summer Reporter for Purdue Exponent

Recently I ate a meal with my boyfriend at Pappy’s in the Purdue Union.  This burger and shake joint has been around at Purdue since 1927!  The diner invokes nostalgia for the halcyon days of the fifties, with old black and white images of cute couples and football players.  These pictures are darling – but where are the black people?  Oh right, they were prevented from attending Purdue then.  Where are the homosexuals?  Oh right, homosexuality was treated as an illness then, and openly gay people were prevented from attending Purdue.  And look at all these buff men – why might the ratio of men to women be so high in these pictures?  Because tons of men were given free rides to Purdue on the GI Bill.  The few women who did attend Purdue were stuck in home ec.

Pappy’s should have a disclaimer at the door: “We understand that white heterosexual males were privileged during the fifties while non-whites, non-heterosexuals, and great quantities of women were prevented from attending Purdue, and therefore enjoying our delicious burgers and shakes.  By recognizing these injustices in the past, we look forward to a more equal future.”

Likewise, Renaissance fairs should have to smell like shit since, literally, people threw their shit in the streets.  You should see women being slapped around, kids crying, and really skinny, hungry peasants.  Doesn’t sound so fun now does it?

Movies should also bear disclaimers, like “This is total horse shit but you’re going to love it anyway!”  Take for example, Secretariat, the new film starring Diane lane which Andrew O’Hehir from Salon describes as “a Tea Party-flavored, Christian-friendly yarn about one big horse and our nation’s past.”

Read on history lovers!

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Andrew O’Hehir, Salon, link to original article

“Secretariat” is such a gorgeous film, its every shot and every scene so infused with warm golden light, that I began to wonder whether the movie theater were on fire. Or my head. But the welcoming glow that imbues every corner of this nostalgic horse-racing yarn with rich, lambent color comes from within, as if the movie itself is ablaze with its own crazy sense of purpose. (Or as if someone just off-screen were burning a cross on the lawn.) I enjoyed it immensely, flat-footed dialogue and implausible situations and all. Which doesn’t stop me from believing that in its totality “Secretariat” is a work of creepy, half-hilarious master-race propaganda almost worthy of Leni Riefenstahl, and all the more effective because it presents as a family-friendly yarn about a nice lady and her horse.

In its own strange way, “Secretariat” is a work of genius. On its lustrous surface, it’s an exciting sports movie in a familiar triumph-over-adversity vein, based on the real-life career of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, probably the greatest racehorse ever, and his owner, Penny Chenery, played by Diane Lane in a resplendent collection of period knitwear and steel-magnolia ‘tude. “Secretariat” is self-consciously crafted in the mode of last year’s hit “The Blind Side” (which made a zillion bucks and won Sandra Bullock an Oscar), and clearly hopes for similar rewards. Like that film, it uses a “true story” as the foundation for a pop-historical reverie that seems to reference enduring American virtues — self-reliance, stick-to-it-iveness, etc. — without encouraging you to think too much about their meaning or context.

Although the troubling racial subtext is more deeply buried here than in “The Blind Side” (where it’s more like text, period), “Secretariat” actually goes much further, presenting a honey-dipped fantasy vision of the American past as the Tea Party would like to imagine it, loaded with uplift and glory and scrubbed clean of multiculturalism and social discord. In the world of this movie, strong-willed and independent-minded women like Chenery are ladies first (she’s like a classed-up version of Sarah Palin feminism), left-wing activism is an endearing cute phase your kids go through (until they learn the hard truth about inheritance taxes), and all right-thinking Americans are united in their adoration of a Nietzschean Überhorse, a hero so superhuman he isn’t human at all.

Now, the fact that director Randall Wallace and screenwriter Mike Rich locate this golden age between 1969 and 1973 might seem at first like a ludicrous joke, if you are old enough (as I am) to halfway remember those years. I’ll say that again: The year Secretariat won the Triple Crown was the year the Vietnam War ended and the Watergate hearings began. You could hardly pick a period in post-Civil War American history more plagued by chaos and division and general insanity (well, OK — you could pick right now). Wallace references that social context in the most glancing and dismissive manner possible — Penny’s eldest daughter is depicted as a teen antiwar activist, in scenes that resemble lost episodes of “The Brady Bunch” — but our heroine’s double life as a Denver housewife and Virginia horse-farm owner proceeds pretty much as if the 1950s had gone on forever. (The words “Vietnam” and “Nixon” are never uttered.)

One shouldn’t impute too much diabolical intention to the filmmakers; for all I know, Penny Chenery really did live in an insulated, lily-white bubble of horsey exurban privilege, and took no notice of the country ripping itself apart. But today, in the real world, we find ourselves once again in an enraged and dangerously bifurcated society, and I can’t help thinking that “Secretariat” is meant as a comforting allegory, like Glenn Beck’s sentimental Christmas yarn: The real America has been here all along, and we can get it back. If we just believe in — well, in something unspecified but probably pretty scary.

Religion and politics are barely mentioned in the story of Chenery and her amazing horse, but it’s clear that “Secretariat” was constructed and marketed with at least one eye on the conservative Christian audiences who embraced “The Blind Side.” The film opens with a voice-over passage from the Book of Job and ends with a hymn. Wallace, also the director of “We Were Warriors” and the writer of “Pearl Harbor” and “Braveheart,” is one of mainstream Hollywood’s few prominent Christians, and has spoken openly about his faith and his desire to make movies that appeal to “people with middle-American values.”

Hey, all’s fair in art and commerce. Hollywood has finally woken up (a few decades late) to the enormous consumer power of the Christian market, and given all the namby-pamby Tinseltown liberalism right-wingers love to complain about, it’s about time. But it’s legitimate to wonder exactly what Christian-friendly and “middle-American” inspirational values are being conveyed here, or whether they’re just providing cover for some fairly ordinary right-wing ideology and xenophobia. This long-suffering female Job overcomes such tremendous obstacles as having been born white and Southern and possessed of impressive wealth and property, and who then lucks into owning a genetic freak who turned out to be faster and stronger than any racehorse ever foaled. And guess what? She triumphs anyway!

If Americans love to root for the underdog, they may love to root for the favorite disguised as the underdog even more. That’s pretty much what happens here, with the blond, privileged Penny Chenery and her superhorse posed as emblems of American ingenuity and power against the villainous, swarthy and vaguely terrorist-flavored Pancho Martin (Nestor Serrano), trainer of Sham, Secretariat’s archrival. (Even the horse’s name is evil!) The competition between the two horses was real enough; they raced neck-and-neck in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. But the depiction of Martin as an evil, chauvinistic braggart is fictional and highly unpleasant — and it’s tough not to notice that he’s one of only two nonwhite speaking characters in the film. The other one is Eddie (Nelsan Ellis), an African-American groom who belongs to a far more insidious tradition of movie stereotypes. Eddie dances and sings. He loves Jesus and that big ol’ horse. He is loyal and deferential to Miz Penny, and injects soul and spirit into her troubled life. I am so totally not kidding.

To move from content back to form, let me repeat that there’s a whole lot to like in “Secretariat.” Diane Lane gives a weirdly compelling performance, one of her best. She renders Penny Chenery as an iron-willed superwoman, striking and magisterial but utterly nonsexual, illuminated from within like a medieval saint. She busts down the doors on the boys’ club of old-money Kentucky and Virginia racing, outwits the tax authorities and defangs Pancho Martin, in between doing loads of her kids’ laundry. It’s hard to say who is more indomitable, Penny or the magnificent colt she called Big Red, who capped his Triple Crown with an unbelievable 31-length victory at New York’s Belmont Stakes. It’s a charismatic, ultra-cornball performance, and right about the time that Rich’s screenplay runs out of let’s-go-get-’em speeches for Lane to deliver, Wallace and cinematographer Dean Semler step in with wonderfully varied and dazzling approaches to Secretariat’s four big races (the Triple Crown plus the earlier Wood Memorial, where he finished fourth).

Despite those thrilling sequences, you don’t learn much more about the world of racing in “Secretariat” than you learn about Facebook in “The Social Network” (and a lot of the stuff about racing in this movie is wrong or misleading). (You won’t learn anything about anything from John Malkovich’s mailed-in performance as eccentric French-Canadian trainer Lucien Laurin.) Big Red himself is a big, handsome MacGuffin, symbolic window dressing for a quasi-inspirational fantasia of American whiteness and power. Horses don’t go to the movies, and this movie is about human beings, and our nonsensical but inescapable yearning to find the keys to the future in stupid ideas about a past that never existed.

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Why “Eat Pray Love” Should Make You Want to “Eat, Shoot and Leave”

I thought this review was hilarious.  Even though I’ve never read the book, I strongly dislike movies in which white people are enlightened by non-white people, and, in turn, try to save those non-white people.

Loop 21 discusses the dangers of “color blindness” in these “white-people-as-savior” films:

Hollywood has been perpetuating this “master narrative” for over 100 years — the fact that without whites, blacks will never reach their full potential in life or in society. Really.

While many people know this story and some may have lived it, the fact is that this is the exception and not the rule. Black folks spend plenty of time saving themselves from systems of oppression that are so intrinsically linked, that life on planet Earth can appear daunting to many and hopeless to others. The fact remains that African-Americans have a history of resiliency and determination that is unmatched in this country.

Why is Hollywood so invested in telling this other story over and over to the point of exhaustion, while clearly ignoring the norm, which is Black folks pulling together to make something out of nothing?

Hollywood’s love affair with black people with or without athletic ability, that need saving from themselves, continues. This love affair is only trumped by audiences that reinforce this problematic narrative by flocking to films that continue to profit from this disingenuous storyline.

This happens a lot in American movies:

Dangerous Minds

Renaissance Man

The Blind Side

and the new film Eat Pray Love


In the NPR article, “Eat, Pray, Love, Leave: Orientalism Still Big Onscreen,” author Mia Mask includes the film in a list of recent movies which romanticize travel along the Silk Road.  Some plots like those in Syriana, Body of Lies, and the new Prince of Persia “rely on the stereotype that the East is someplace timeless, otherworldly, incomprehensible.”  While other films like Eat Pray Love and Sex in the City 2, rely on the stereotype that “the East is waiting to be discovered by Westerners in search of self.”

This is orientalism.

“‘Orientalism’ is the term academic historians and literary scholars like Edward Said have used to describe this age-old pattern of depicting Middle and Far Easterners as primitive Others.”

But that’s another blog post.

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This essay, written by Sandip Roy and originally published on AlterNet, gets at the implications of exoticism and orientalism in the film Eat Pray Love.

For the longest time, I thought the 2006 bestseller “Eat, Pray, Love” was a sequel to the 2004 bestseller about punctuation “Eats, Shoots and Leaves.”

Now I am enlightened. One is about the search for the meaning of life. The other is about the meaning of a comma.

I confess I never read Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller except for browsing through a few pages in a copy sitting by a friend’s bedside. I enjoyed the writing. The story of picking yourself up after losing your way has universal appeal even if we all can’t afford to recharge under the Tuscan sun.

It’s not Gilbert’s fault, but as someone who comes from India, I have an instinctive reflex reaction to books about white people discovering themselves in brown places. I want to gag, shoot and leave.

The story is so self-involved, its movie version should’ve been called, “Watch Me Eat, Pray and Love.” In a way I almost prefer the old colonials in their pith helmets trampling over the Empire’s far-flung outposts. At least they were somewhat honest in their dealings. They wanted the gold, the cotton, and laborers for their sugar plantations. And they wanted to bring Western civilization, afternoon tea and anti-sodomy laws to godforsaken places riddled with malaria and Beriberi.

The new breed is more sensitive, less overt. They want to spend a year in a faraway place on a “journey.” But the journey is all about what they can get. Not gold, cotton or spices anymore. They want to eat, shoot films (or write books), emote and leave. They want the food, the spirituality, the romance.

Now, I don’t want to deny Gilbert her “journey.” She is herself honest, edifying and moving. I don’t want to deny her Italian carbs, her Indian Om’s or her Bali Hai beach romance. We all need that sabbatical from the rut of our lives.

But as her character complained that she had “no passion, no spark, no faith” and needed to go away for one year, I couldn’t help wondering where do people in Indonesia and India go away to when they lose their passion, spark and faith? I don’t think they come to Manhattan. Usually third-worlders come to America to find education, jobs and to save enough money to send for their families to join them, not work out their kinks.

This is not to say “Eat, Pray, Love”– now a major movie in a theater near you – just exists in a self-centered air-conditioned meditation cave and has no heart. But it requires more than the normal suspension of disbelief when Julia Roberts announces she will eat that whole pizza and buy the “big girl jeans.” We see her trying to squeeze her Julia Roberts body into her jeans, struggling with the zipper and we know this is a fine, brave actor at work.

She tries not to be the foreign tourist but she does spend an awful lot of time with the expats whether it’s the Swede in Italy, the Texan in India or the Brazilian in Bali. The natives mostly have clearly assigned roles. Language teacher. Hangover healer. Dispenser of fortune-cookie-style wisdom. Knowledge, it seems, is never so meaningful as when it comes in broken English, served up with puckish grins, and an idyllic backdrop. The expats have messy histories, but the natives’ lives, other than that teenaged arranged marriage in India, are not very complicated. They are there as the means to her self discovery. After that is done, it’s time to book the next flight.

But all through the film this is what I was wondering. Why was she drawn to those three countries? Why Italy, India and Indonesia?

Is it because they all start with I?

I, I, and I.

Not inappropriate for a film that is ultimately about Me, Myself, and I. I travel therefore I am.

Nothing drove that home better than what happened after the screening ended. I went down in an elevator crammed with radiant women, all discussing when they teared up during the film, and how much they related to it, and its message of opening yourself up to the world. There was one woman in a wheelchair in the elevator. After we reached the lobby, the women, still chattering, marched out into the chilly San Francisco night. The woman in the wheelchair remained stranded behind the heavy doors.

Sandip Roy (sandip@pacificnews.org) is host of “Upfront,” the Pacific News Service weekly radio program on KALW-FM, San Francisco.

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Asians can only play terrorists or geeks, says Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel

This article gets at some core issues about the racial and ethnic stereotyping of Asians in films.  The only thing I would add is the stereotype of the spiritually wise Asian (Victor Wong in 3 Ninjas, Splinter in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Buddhists in Ace Ventura Pet Detective: When Nature Calls…..)  Expect a blog post soon about the Orientalism in Eat Pray Love.

Dev Patel in The Last Airbender, Photo by Paramount Pictures

By Anita Singh, The Daily Telegraph, link

Hollywood is institutionally racist, according to Dev Patel, the Slumdog Millionaire star, who claims Asian actors are limited to roles as terrorists, taxi drivers or geeks.

When the film about the Mumbai slums became the surprise hit of last year, winning eight Oscars, it was expected that Patel’s career would take off.

But the 20 year-old from Harrow, north-west London, has been frustrated by the lack of decent roles on offer and is currently jobless.

“Because Slumdog was such a big hit, there was a lot of pressure in terms of what I did next,” he said. “For my second film, I wanted a role that would stretch me, but all I was getting offered were stereotypical parts like the goofy Indian sidekick.

“Asian actors tend not to be sent Hollywood scripts that are substantial or challenging. I’m likely to be offered the roles of a terrorist, cab driver and smart geek.

“I want to show that I have versatility. You have to remember that, before Slumdog, the last film about India that went big at the Oscars was Gandhi, as played by Ben Kingsley. The fact that me and Freida have any kind of platform in Hollywood is a big step forward.”

Freida Pinto played Patel’s love interest in the film and is now his real girlfriend. The Indian-born former model has had more success than Patel, winning a role in Woody Allen’s latest film.

But he said he hoped to overcome any prejudice. “I’m buzzing with adrenaline and raring to go, but I have to be realistic. Being an Asian actor, it’s never going to be easy. Hopefully the industry is changing and the casting directors will be less focused on colour so that people like myself can get through the door.”

Patel was plucked from the relative obscurity of Channel 4’s teenage drama, Skins, to make his film debut in Slumdog Millionaire. Directed by Danny Boyle, it became a box office success and won the best picture Oscar.

The film Patel chose for his second role has been mired in accusations of racism. The Last Airbender is based on a children’s television cartoon in which the main characters are Asian. The pounds 100?million Hollywood adaptation, released in Britain this week, has white actors in the leading roles while the Asian actors – including Patel – are limited to playing villains.

When the film premiered in America last month, there were protests at the cinema.

The actor still lives at home with his parents and travels on public transport. He said: “One time I was on the Tube and I picked up a free newspaper. Inside was a big article with the headlines, ‘Dev Patel, the new rising star’ along with a picture of me. This woman got on and started reading the piece. She looked up at me and did a classic double take.”

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