Monday, April 7, 2008

Mississippi Masala - Africans and Indians

This film does a good job of at least bringing up – if not fully discussing – the racism and prejudice that do not fit squarely into the black-white binary, but in fact, do exist amongst many different racial and ethnic groups wherever they may reside. If we were to look at the Indian community as a whole (which admittedly may not be fair to certain characters such as Mina and her father, and also is complicated by the fact that the Indian community in Mississippi is made up of Indians from India and Indians from elsewhere), there exists both in Africa and in America an environment in which Indians as outsiders reside amongst a relatively larger population of blacks. However, as Demetrius pointed out when Mina’s father took him walking outside the motel, there appears to be a strange phenomenon in which Mina’s father is more accepting of Africans in Africa than African-Americans. What makes those Africans more acceptable than these, since they (D’s family) are, as Demetrius’s younger brother said, Africans who have never been to Africa just as Mina is an Indian who has never been to India? Dmitrius suggests that Mina’s father has forgotten his ties to the black community, wherever it may be, and that instead of trying to maintain his relationship to blacks, he is trying to fit himself into the white role. This is probably a phenomenon/struggle that is common among many minorities that are trying to assimilate into American society.

This also brings up an interesting question that is asked again and again in the film of ethnic identity – are you Indian if you’ve never been to India? If not, then can you be African if you’re ethnically Indian (as in the case of the father)? If you cannot be either one, then where does that leave you? An even more interesting point was the question of whether or not this struggle for identity applied to African-Americans because they are oppressed and prejudiced against by white American society, but most of them have never been to Africa. At the end of the film, this question is never really resolved, but on a perhaps too-optimistic note, the film suggests that it is possible to create entirely new breed of culture and identity between that which is Indian and that which is African(-American?) with the image of Mina in her traditional Indian dress and Demetrius who somehow got a hold of traditional African garb.

This was not a film that intensely explored in depth the issues of race and identity, but that may not have been the goal that the writers/directors had in mind. It introduced the audience to a different way of thinking of racism (especially amongst different racial/ethnic groups) and ethnic tensions in America by way of tensions in Uganda. Overall, it was a film that is part of the increasingly convoluted dialogue on race in America.

No comments: