Thematic Irony in ‘Mississippi Masala’

“I am a black man born and raised in Mississippi. Ain’t nothing you can tell me about struggle.”

As one of the strongest quotes in the film, this really resonated with me. Being one of the leading states pushing for segregation to remain, I find the Mississippi setting to be very important to the plot and theme of the film. In many ways, it alluded back to the history of racism in America. The setting drew parallels to Rosa Parks, death of civil rights leaders at the hands of the KKK, and many others.

It made me think of one of the most notable Jim Crow laws in Mississippi, where “printed, typewritten or written matter urging or presenting for public acceptance or general information, arguments or suggestions in favor of social equality or of intermarriage between whites and Negroes, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to fine not exceeding five hundred (500.00) dollars or imprisonment not exceeding six (6) months or both.”

Then, we see in the film that an Indian family and African American family refusing to allow interracial relations between their children. To the viewer, it seemed quite strange; however, I think that’s the point. As a common plot device in realist fiction, which this film very much is, Mississippi Masala rests on the use of estrangement (making something familiar seem unfamiliar) to flesh out the theme of the film. Having two marginalized groups pushing against inclusion and equality presents the strength of dominant discourse in American culture while highlighting the history of interracial relations in this country. In the end, the two lovers had to flee to escape the confines of the racist culture in which they live.

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