Tag Archives: Indian

We’re All In Danger: An Open Letter to Minority Republicans

These are the facts:

Last Wednesday, Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani – two Indian-born engineers living and working in the US – stepped into Austin’s Bar & Grill in Olathe, Kansas. As they had done so many times before, they ordered drinks and unwound after a long day of work. On this particular evening however, Kuchibhotla and Madasani were approached by another patron, Adam Purinton, who began to shout racial slurs at the two men and demanded to know “Which country are you from? Are you here illegally?”, before shouting “Get out of my country!

Purinton was thrown out of the bar, only to return with a gun, opening fire on Kuchibhotla and Madasani. Kuchibhotla was killed and Madasani was injured, along with twenty-four year old patron Ian Grillot, who attempted to subdue Purinton. Purinton fled on foot, and was next seen five hours later at an Applebees across the state line. Purinton claimed openly to having killed “two Middle-Eastern men.” Purinton was promptly arrested and extradited from Missouri back to Kansas, where he has been charged with first-degree murder, bail set at two-million dollars.

Once again, these are the facts.

What follows is the tricky part.

How do I write about this – any of this – without devolving into incoherent rage? After all these tragedies over all these years, have we gotten any closer to make sense of the senseless?

Perhaps I could write about how Indians and Sikhs have repeatedly been the targets of hatred intended for Arabs and Muslims. How ever since 9/11, an entire group of people who have done nothing – nothing – to harm the US have been harassed, belittled, and even murdered.

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And the 2012 massacre in Oak Creek, WI is just one of many examples

Continue reading

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Free State of Mind: Andrew Govender Discusses Acting, Tradition, and Religion

Free-State-Updated-PosterThis is the third and final installment of “Free State of Mind”, a series of Q&As with the cast and crew of a South African film currently making the rounds at film festivals. You can read my review here, find out more about its creation from producer Terwadkar Rajiv here, and get some insight on how co-lead Nicola Breytenbach’s prepared for her role here.

Today’s interview is with Andrew Govender, who plays Ravi, the other half of the couple at Free State‘s core. Another former model like his co-star, he began his career at just sixteen-years-old. Being crowned Mr. South Africa in 2012 is only one of his many achievements, which include creating the Andrew Govender Book Club with the Nelson Mandela Foundation and being involved in various awareness campaigns.

Given that their characters share a few interesting parallels Govender answers a number of the same questions that Breytenbach did, with a few that are unique to Ravi himself.


An arranged marriage is the biggest barrier that Ravi faces in his relationship with Jeanette. How would you say he views that tradition and what it means for his future?

I think he respects it and accepts it. He was brought up in a traditional Indian family and those are Indian traditions. However, when he gets to meet his arranged wife he realises that he doesn’t have much in common with her. That’s when he meets Jeanette and falls madly in love. He knows that he shouldn’t be pursuing a relationship with her because it’s illegal during that time for inter-racial relationships. However, he can’t help himself and that results in detrimental consequences.

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Ravi makes it clear that he’s concerned about his sister’s safety, but what does he ultimately think about what his family does under cover of darkness?

He understands that they are doing it for a greater cause and he respects that. However, he does care deeply for them and doesn’t want anything to happen to them when they go on these missions. He’s close to his family and wants to protect them.

From what I can tell this is your first role in a feature film. How was that experience, especially with it being a South African production instead of a big Hollywood movie?

It was an incredible experience. I got the opportunity to work with some really talented South African actors. I learnt a lot by being on set and having these actors mentor me throughout the filming process.

Our director Sallas de Jager was also really supportive and helped me to give the best performance I could. Even though this was a South African film, the production standards on the movie were really high. That can be attested to with all the international awards that the movie has won. I really hope that I will have the opportunity to work on more films both in South Africa and Hollywood. Acting is really something that I enjoy immensely.

How much did you know about South Africa’s Immorality Acts before signing on to this film?

Not a lot. I grew up post Apartheid, so most of what I knew was from what I heard, not what I could have experienced. It was quite eyeopening to learn more about that time in South Africa’s history and how Indian people were treated. I gathered as much information as I could from my parents about their experiences during that time. I also was really fortunate that my acting teacher had been in an inter-racial relationship and she was able to help me understand my character better.

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Religion plays a large part in Free State for both Ravi and Jeanette’s families. Did you come from a religious background, and did this have any affect on how you played the role?

Yes, I did. I grew up in a conservative traditional Indian family so religion was important to us. My character was also brought up with the same core values and so religion would have been important to him too. There’s a scene in the movie where my character meditates and also seeks relationship advice from a guru. So we are aware that he relies on religion to guide him in the choices that he makes.

Free State of Mind: Actress Nicola Breytenbach on Getting in Character

Free-State-Updated-PosterThis is the second installment of “Free State of Mind”, a series of Q&As with the cast and crew of a South African film currently making the rounds at film festivals. You can read my review here, and find out more about its creation from producer Terwadkar Rajiv here.

Today’s interview is with Nicola Breytenbach, who plays Jeanette, one of the two romantic leads. While she has spent the past several years as a successful model, with her career taking her to runways across the world, Free State marks the beginning of her acting career. Just last month The Blue Mauritius began filming in Montreal, with the US and German co-production being her second ever silver screen role.


Jeanette is first introduced returning home to her father after finishing law school. While it isn’t heavily covered in the film, what kind of impact do you think that education had on how she views life, especially after she meets with Ravi [co-lead and love interest]? 

As Jeanette went to Wits University, which was a more liberal university than many others, it would have changed the way she viewed and felt about apartheid and the immorality act. She pursued higher education as it was instilled upon her by Maria and her father, but her true desire was to be a wife and mother.

Jeanette was raised in the very small remote town of Memel and even though it was a Christian white community it was very sheltered, and as she says in the beginning of the film that’s why she was a real ‘political innocent’. She wasn’t exposed to the reality of it much, except for a few remote incidents which completely shocked her. As her mother also passed away at such a young age and her father had a difficult time reaching out to her because of his grief, she was raised almost solely by Maria who is black South African Zulu.

Hence when she met Ravi, she didn’t think about his race and it didn’t deter her from seeing a friendly man who went out of his way to help her in this traumatic incident of a near accident. She only saw his compassion and how selflessly he had helped her. As time goes on, they both come to the realize the severity of the situation they are in, as well as the fact that they are engaged to others, but at this point it is too late, they have already fallen in love. Continue reading

Free State of Mind: Behind the Scenes with Producer Terwadkar Rajiv

Free-State-Updated-PosterLast month I was offered the amazing opportunity to watch a screener of Free State, and published my review at the beginning of this one. Set in mid-70s South Africa the film revolves around an interracial relationship that would have been illegal due to anti-miscegenation laws of that time.

In addition to that I was also able to interview members of the cast and crew via email, with consequent installments of “Free State of Mind” being released in the following days. Up first is a Q&A with Terwadkar Rajiv, who produced the film alongside Piet De Jager and Sallas De Jager.


When many people think of South Africa and racism their minds immediately go to Nelson Mandela and apartheid. What do you think their reaction will be to Free State, which focuses on relations between White people and South Asians, instead of Black people?

Apartheid was one of the dark patches of South Africa, no doubt about that! When South Africa got independence and Nelson Mandela became the President most of the people were thinking – what will be the future of South Africa? Will whites be kicked out of the country? The way things happened clearly shows that all ethnic groups started living towards one nation, South Africa!

Although there are stories during Apartheid where Indians and blacks were tortured, beaten up or even killed by the Police or Army; some whites used to treat Indians & Blacks respectfully! There are so many stories from Apartheid which prove that inter-racial relationships and friendships existed before 1994.

­Free State is a film which focuses on the relationship between Jeanette (Afrikaans White Girl) and Ravi (Handsome Indian man). This also beautifully shows the motherly relationship between Zulu maid Maria and Jeanette, who she raised as her own daughter, ­­making it truly cross cultural and crossing ethnic boundaries. Continue reading

“Hymn for the Weekend”: Appreciation, Appropriation, and the Exotic Black Woman

I don’t know about you, but I can’t stop listening to “Hymn for the Weekend” on repeat.

However, before I had even listened to Chris Martin and Queen Bey meld their voices in a divine mesh of harmonies, I was reading about it on Tumblr.

Cultural Appreciation vs. Appropriation

The first thing I heard about the video was that it had some pretty rampant cultural appropriation. Since there have been a number of music videos and performances accused of cultural appropriation over the last few years, I wasn’t too surprised to hear about “Hymn for the Weekend” being added to the list.

The video quickly split viewers into two groups, those who considered it cultural appropriation, and those who appreciated the video’s focus on Indian culture. The clip below highlights a few of the key elements that have been discussed and criticized.

This discussion is tricky for a variety of reasons. For example, there is a time and place when a white person can wear Indian clothing and accessories without coming off as disrespectful. In some cases, it’s actually much more respectful to embrace local dress customs than to ignore them.

There are even music videos where diverse customs and styles have been featured without any backlash about appropriation.

This debate can also seem confusing when Indian fans, or fans with Indian heritage, don’t seem to be bothered by the video’s representation of their culture.

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Putting The Martian On Blast – Racebending, Whitewashing, and the Last Straw

The Martian is Guilty of Whitewashing

Last Thursday the Media Action Network For Asian-Americans [MANAA] issued a statement criticizing director Ridley Scott for the whitewashing of Asian roles in his film The Martian. Their judgements are twofold, namely citing that:

  • NASA’s director of Mars operations Dr. Venkat Kapoor as an Asian-Indian character who identifies religiously as being “a Hindu.” The group pointed out that in Scott’s film, his name is changed to Vincent Kapoor, and he’s played by British black actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, who says his father was “a Hindu” but that his mother was “Baptist.”
  • Mindy Park, described by Weir as Korean-American, is played in the movie by Mackenzie Davis, a white, blonde actress.

Now I wish I could proceed on to the rest of this blog post, but people have asked the question as to whether or not this is, technically, whitewashing. It’s going to take a few paragraphs, but let’s get that out of the way-

Okay, The Martian is Guilty of Racebending/Whitewashing

Let’s start from the very, very, very top. The Wikipedia entry for this can actually be found under “racebending”, with “whitewashing” cited as being [citation needed] a more archaic term. Their definition of this practice is:

“when the race or ethnicity of a character, in a story, is altered to an ostensibly more ‘palatable’ or ‘profitable’ ethnicity.”

The reason people have been asking the question as to whether or not this did in fact take place is that The Martian is a film adaptation of a novel by author Andy Weir. As such the source material is devoid of any visual aids in regards to the explicit ethnicities of its characters. Weir himself had a number of things to say about this with MTV News at the Toronto International Film Festival where the film debuted [the interview occurred before MANAA’s statement]:

In regards to writing and describing his characters’ ethnicities-

“So unless a physical description is somehow relevant to the plot, OK, you know he’s missing a leg — something like that, but unless it’s like really important to the plot then I don’t physically describe my characters at all.”

“You can imagine them however you like. Like, for instance, the ethnicity of Mark, I never told you.”

In response to criticisms of Chiwetel Ejiofor being cast as Vincent Kapoor-

“He’s an American. Americans come from lots of different sources! You can be Venkat Kapoor and black.”

In response to criticism of Mackenzie Davis being cast as Mindy Park-

“Whatever ethnicity she has, she’s an American and her family has been in America forever, which is why her first name is just Mindy, but her last name is Park. But Park is also a British surname so the casting people [could have] thought Mackenzie Davis looks like someone descended from Brits. And she did a great job! I’m certainly not complaining about anything related to casting.”

mindyparkWhile not a direct quote, MTV News also shares how Weir envisioned Park while writing the novel:

“He did admit that he’d always pictured Mindy Park as of Korean lineage, but emphasized again that he had never actually explicitly written her as Korean.”

This is all well and good, but problematic in that it doesn’t jive with an interview that took place in May of this year with the blog domesoph. When asked by blogger Sophie Milam about how he approached writing his extensive cast, Weir responded [emphasis added]:

“I didn’t set out to deliberately balance the crew. For the most part, I just wanted them each to be unique enough for the reader to tell them apart without prompting. It’s a real problem in written fiction. You don’t have the face on-screen or voice being heard to remind the audience who’s who. They need to know it immediately from the name.
So there are no two people on Hermes who are the same demographic. There’s one white American guy (Beck), one Hispanic guy (Martinez), and one German guy (Vogel). There are two women of undefined ethnicity (presumably white) but one of them is the Commander, so you won’t get them confused either. Especially since they all call her ‘Commander’.
So it wasn’t any deliberate attempt at diversity. It was really just a shortcut to making sure the reader knew who was who. You’ll find I pulled the same trick with the NASA characters: Teddy (white guy who is in charge), Mitch (white guy who isn’t in charge), Venkat (Indian), Annie (white woman), Mindy Park (Korean woman), Rich Purnell (African American).”

Now I want to be fair and admit that not every author is [or can be] Alan Moore, who has very publicly denounced all film adaptations of his own work. Weir is currently working on his sophomore novel, with The Martian making up the entirety of his current bibliography. As an author with his first-ever book being adapted by Hollwood, and with the film rumoured to be nabbing an Oscar, there are more reasons against than for when it comes to rocking the boat. So let’s discard what Weir has to say, separate from his novel, completely.

All art is open to interpretation regardless of the creator’s intent, so without Weir’s opinions here’s what we know about the characters:

That being said I’m willing to make the concession that free of Weir’s intentions Mindy Park certainly could have been either White or East Asian. When it comes to Venkat Kapoor, on the other hand, most signs point towards him being South Asian, more specifically East Indian. Let’s pull up the definition for “racebending” again:

“when the race or ethnicity of a character, in a story, is altered to an ostensibly more ‘palatable’ or ‘profitable’ ethnicity.”

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Chiwetel Ejiofor is an Academy Award winning actor. He’s also a Nigerian English man, part of a demographic that has not struggled in Hollywood compared to many others. Comparatively speaking I would run out of American films headlining East Indian talent before I ran out of fingers. Are Black men more profitable than Indian men? Everything I know about North America answers a resounding yes. So this is what we’re left with:

Venkat Kapoor was racebent for The Martian.

Mindy Park [given the author’s intent] was whitewashed for The Martian.

To be fair [and I think I have been thus far], East Indian actor Irrfan Khan had been in talks to play Kapoor but had to decline due to another commitment. It’s worth noting that the role had been intended for Khan, and it’s also commendable that- Continue reading

Not A Review Of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

The book in question, the eighth by Gabrielle Zevin, an author more known for her YA [young adult] fare, is one that I have altogether too many thoughts about. I’m choosing not to dub this post a review proper, as it’s really a slightly more cohesive version of one of the stream of consciousness responses to books/films/etc. that blogger/writer J. Caleb Mozzocco is so fond of doing.

In order to make this easier for all of you to read, and with no offence whatsoever meant to Mozzocco [whose writing I enjoy quite a bit] I have boiled down this post to the three primary thoughts I was left with once I’d closed the book.

To be upfront with everyone I also want to state, before starting, that I enjoyed reading this novel and while this will definitely make more sense having read it, I hope to have written it in such a way that doesn’t spoil anything and piques your interest enough to pick it up. Continue reading