Saturday, April 5, 2008

Mississippi Masala: Different Cultures, Common Ground

Mississippi Masala explores the relationship of "the other" in a place away from home, dealing with family, assimilation, and discrimination. However, in this case, "home" is Uganda, the family is Indian, and the surrogate homeland is the American South. So, the dynamics are very different, and race relations are especially complex. Culture clashes and racism are prominent themes in this film, as well as family.

Anil and his wife, newlyweds of an arranged marriage, have a relationship without passion; this is in contrast to the intense love affair between Mina and Demetrius. They, I suppose, are meant to represent modernity and fusion, whereas Mina's family represents tradition and self-segregation. However, in both cultures, the concept of family is very important, and family relationships are tight-knit.

I found it interesting that the concept of color within race is similar between both Indians and African Americans (not always, but often among the older generation). Mina says, "Face it ma, you got a darky daughter", and skin color plays a role in the "correctness" of relationships, in the eyes of others. Anil says, "As long as you are not white, it means you are colored. Isn't that so?".

In the American South, both Indians and African Americans are discriminated against. Similarly, Mina's family is expelled from Uganda because "Africa is for Africans", as Okelo says. Idi Amin wants Asians gone from Uganda because "they have refused to let their daughters marry Asian men." Interestingly, I feel that this is a mirroring of the race relations of the United States, where blacks are othered, interracial relationships are taboo, and nativists feel that whites are the only "real Americans." Also, I really liked the dialogue between Mina and Demetrius' brother, in which Mina says, "I don't know, I've never been to India," and he replies, "Well, you're just like us -- we've never been to Africa neither."

All in all, I thought this was a sweet, heartfelt movie, and a different take on American race relations than the usual black-white.

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