Humanizing Politics

A major element that reoccurs in many forms of political media, whether it be television, film, or literature, is the attempt to humanize the politics and the events surrounding them. Bombay did this by following the story of a small family, whose odds were set against them from the beginning of the film. From the very start of their relationship, Shekar and Shaila fought to be together. Due to their difference in beliefs, Shekar being Hindu and Shaila being Muslim, the two had to go against their families’, society’s, and religions’ expectations. This difference in religion was the center of the film, using the couple’s differences and struggles as a segue into a larger political discussion.

 

But…let’s take a moment to go beyond the discussion of Bombay and politics in cinema.

There are several other forms of media that are used to humanize “political” discussions – short films, short stories, documentaries, novels, television shows, journalism, etc. While I know this post is meant to be dedicated to politics in cinema, I’m taking a chance and straying from the topic. While I started this post with the intention of focusing on Bombay, recent events and other political discussions have taken over my attention, and I can’t bring myself to ignore them. But first, a quick backstory:

I entered college as a photojournalism major, hoping to make a difference in the world by sharing stories that would otherwise be unheard. While I am no longer majoring in photojournalism, the experiences that I had while reporting and the work that my fellow peers have done have had a major impact on my life and my worldview. This is why in class discussions I often bring up the role of media, how it is portrayed, and the effects it has on the story being told.

That being said, I want to share examples of how various forms of media offer the chance for the unheard to be heard – for the political to become personal. In light of it being Pride, some of these examples will be focusing on the LGBTQ+ community.

Note: I do not claim copyright to any of these videos.

1.Imagine a World where being “Gay” was the Norm and being “Straight”was the Minority [Short Film]

2. In-Between [Documentary]

Video created and edited by Emily Harger

3. Formation [Music Video]

Copyright: (C) 2016 Parkwood Entertainment LLC, under exclusive license to Columbia Records, a Division of Sony Music Entertainment

4. Cherokee [Documentary]

This video is only a very small portion of a larger multi-media project. This short clip is from a section called “Spirits of the Land.” I encourage you to visit http://2016.soulofathens.com/index.html to view the project as a whole.

Open Topic

This class has been a real eye opening experience for me and I really do mean that. I have kind of been the person that has always been shouting America is the best. I am a patriotic person. I served in the military. I am a proud American. However, I was also an ignorant American as well. I have said many times that the greatest experiences that I’ve had are when I get to leave the United States and see the world. Having been to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Dubai, Bahrain, and Turkey has shown me parts of the world I’d never see otherwhise. However, I’ve still remained ignorant to the struggles of different groups from around the world.

In souteast Asia there is a huge problem with sex trafficing and under age girls being sold into a life of abuse. There is a problem with sanitary conditions for people all over Asia. Food is hard to get in some places. Yet all I can think about is what I’m having for dinner or why does McDonald’s always screw up my order? It’s embarassing to think that I might not be as opened mineded and willing to help others as I thought I was.

Maybe I need to travel more but instead of going to the tourist attractions, I should take my ass to places where people genuinelly need help. Seeing my father come back from his mission trips in Honduras really opened my eyes to the joy that he receives when he helps people. I honestly believe the problem with America today is that we’re too selfish. We have the ability to help others yet we lack the desire to do so. In conclusion, I’m glad I took this class because I needed to be reminded that America is a great country but it has great problems. I will aways remember to see the other side of the coin before I make any judgements.

Politcs and Film

While watching movies I’ve always been the type of person that looks for some hidden message or to try and find things going on in the background that perhaps other viewers might miss. Saying that, I realize that political messages are in movies at times where we might think there are none. Take a movie like the second Captain America move Captain America: Winter Soldier. Throughout the movie Captain America is fighting the Winter Soldeir but he’s also fighting with Robert Redford’s character because Redford wants to launch a program that would monitor and keep tabs on every person on the planet. When I first watched this movie I didn’t really think anything about it but now it seems to me as a message that complete power and control should never be given to one person/group because things like this can happen.

There are times where movies don’t have the intent to have a political message but other times they do. In Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, we have a movie that is very clear about it’s politcal message on guns – they are bad. I will not say in agreement or disagreement my stances on the movie but when it came out I remember the conversations that were had as a result.

In closing I’ll say that movies, whether intentionally political or not, have the power to not only say what they want, but also to get people to start having conversations about topics they might not otherwise have. It’s a shame that in this country we only seem to talk about the major issues when a tragedy like the Orlando shootings happen. Perhaps more movies need to convey a message in order to get people to actually think about all sides of an argument.

That Are Not Always Right

In American film and cinema, there are always carefully strategic devices that are placed in front of audiences that speak smoothly to your subconscious. There is a reason why the majority of black films deal with the cliché issues and genres. There is a reason why in a majority-white cast, to have an Indian, Asian, African American, or Mexican cast in a lead role would be an anomaly. There is the age old debate that an artist that is from a different race, would never be able to encompass the true essence of the subject from another race. But the last time I checked, race was a category.

Webster defines it as “a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock,” or, “a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics,” or even, “a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits.” Only one of these define anything that has to do with behavior of some sort, not any type of skin color.

Which gets me to thinking about the movies Lagaan and Mississippi Masala. Both films depict the majority of the “white race” as evil, greedy, and conniving. For the two films they also have Indian directors. Lagaan shows the British that have authority over Indian villages and in a game of cricket will allow for the Indians to not pay taxes for three years if they win. Mississippi Masala has many different representations of white people, but the one that sticks out to me is the college kids that rented a hotel room. They were noisy, drinking underage, and destructive. In my experiences with my friends who are white and strangers who are white, these images are not the only representation of how white people are. However, if someone who has never experienced a white person before only sees these films, how do you think they would feel about white people? I am assuming the same way the white American that has never experienced the minority American, but has watched nothing but American films. The representation for all of us is horrible. Let human nature be the determining factor and not one’s race be the determining factor.

Final Thoughts on the Class

This class has really opened my eyes on a lot of things, but I think my biggest take away is the idea that we have so much in common with cultures that before seemed so different to me. This sounds like some sort of obvious, cliché, all humans are the same type of idea, but I definitely have gained a new appreciation for just how universal so many ideas are. I think the thing that makes this stand out the most to me is the problems we’ve discussed in class. So many of the issues that we discussed in terms of India could also be applied to the United States. Whether it had to do with education or class inequality, all of the problems that India has/had are also issues here. They might not always be completely the same. Different problems might be better or worse in different places, but for the most part people want pretty similar things.

 
Class inequality was one area that stood out to me in particular. There seems to be this idea that India is so unfair to the lower class. All people think about is the caste system and the lack of economic mobility. This may be true, but it’s not like we aren’t being faced with the same sort of problem here. The wealth inequality in the United States is astounding and it’s only growing. We always like to think that problems like this are just things people in other countries have to deal with, but really we’re not so different. So many perceived differences are just imaginary divides. For the most part people all want the same things.

Colonialism and District 9

A great example of using cinema as a medium for political messages is the film District 9. For those of you who haven’t watched it, the plot is about a group of aliens who get stranded in South Africa. The South African government is then forced to support the aliens and they do this putting them in a sort of heavily patrolled ghetto. The film is mockumentary style and follows a government employee who through some unfortunate circumstances is changing into an alien. It also shows clips of interviews with citizens of South Africa expressing their disdain for the aliens.

 
While at face value District 9 could be viewed as just an entertaining science fiction movie, there is a lot more to it than that. The setting is a big part of its message on colonialism. As a country with a terrible, colonialist history, the interviews of both white and black citizens saying the aliens shouldn’t be there are just dripping with irony. Some of the aliens are portrayed as violent and unruly, but for the most part, they are shown as being decent. A big part of the movie is that the government of South Africa is about to move all of the aliens to what is basically a concentration camp. This could definitely be an allusion to the way that the native people of South Africa were grouped up and forced to live separate from the British colonists. Although the use of literal aliens isn’t always a perfect metaphor, the movie does a great job at delivering its message on immigration and colonialism. It also doesn’t hurt that the movie is really entertaining and well done. If you haven’t seen it yet I would definitely recommend watching it.

The Big Bang Theory and its Portrayal of Indians

One topic that we briefly mentioned in the beginning of the class was how Indians and South Asians are represented in American television. One of the most well-known shows with an Indian character is The Big Bang Theory. The character, Rajesh Koothrappali, played by Kunal Nayyar, fills the role of the “funny foreigner.” This common trope in American television can be seen in various other comedies such as The Simpsons and Family Guy. TV Tropes describes and criticizes this trope by saying, “Foreigners are funny! Or so say a good number of comedy shows. The jokes practically write themselves; foreigners mangle the language(especially idioms) in funny ways, they are ignorant of customs in the show’s home country, and they have their own bizarre little customs that make no sense. They will either be unsure of themselves, or (more frequently) totally oblivious to how odd everybody finds them.”

tv-the-big-bang-theory10

Closely related to this trope, Raj’s character plays into many of the stereotypes surrounding Indian immigrants: he is portrayed as socially awkward, nerdy, and effeminate. He is unable to talk to women without being drunk, hangs out with a group of other “nerdy” scientists, and as the article “The Raj Prototype” points out, he “likes fru-fru drinks and The Blue Man Group.” While the show started off being written for an American audience, it is now attempting to cater to a more global audience. Despite this, the show fails to give Raj the opportunity for significant character growth, generally focusing on immigrant Indian stereotypes, Raj’s failed relationships with women, and his ignorance of American customs for humor’s sake.

What do you guys think? Is this portrayal of Indians acceptable just because a “Western” audience finds humor in it? What other shows come to mind when considering American television’s portrayal of Indians and South Asians?