Monday, April 7, 2008

Mississippi Masala Response

I must give director Mira Nair credit for trying to tackle some complex issues in her film Mississippi Masala, however, it seems she tried to take on too many issues at once. Each issue she explores really only scratches the surface and does not cut it for many of these issues.

Nonetheless, as I was watching this movie and comparing it to BLT and Monkey Dance, one theme seemed to prevail in my mind: Asians are always struggling for acceptance (from society, from their parents) but should ultimately stick with their own kind. We see this in Mississippi Masala, when Mina's family is expelled from Uganda, when Mina does not receive her family's blessing when they find out she's dating Demetrius, and when Mina's father ultimately gives up his dreams of returning to Uganda. In Better Luck Tomorrow, we see a gang of Asians who never really fit in with any other group at school, even though they are capable of competing in same realm as everyone else. In Monkey Dance, we see a group of Asian American teenagers who more or less stick with their own kind but still struggle to live up to their parents' expectations. What's ironic is that in these movies, even when the Asian characters end up sticking with their own kind, they are still not really satisfied.

One other aspect of Masala that I found especially interesting was the exploration of a relationship between two minorities, contrasting interracial couples we typically see with one white partner and one minority partner. I thought it was particularly interesting how Nair still identified levels of power between South Asian Indians and African Americans in Mississippi. When we saw Mina's family in Uganda, an area of the world that is predominantly Black, they were seen as the lowest rank on the social hierarchy, despite their lighter skin color. However, when Mina's family moved to Mississippi, a predominantly Black area within a predominantly white country, we see the roles reverse. Indians in Mississippi apparently take on a culturally white role in that area. Ultimately, in Mina and Demetrius' relationship, they are much more on the same level than is typical in many other interracial couples. The only people who put them at different levels are their parents.

Overall in the three films, there are some overarching themes, such as the importance of achieving higher education and the importance of upholding an image of the family to the public, that are characteristic of Asian American culture. Each film portrays these themes just to slightly different extents based on each family's economic status.

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