Monday, April 7, 2008

Narrative Masala

Mississippi Masala was an interesting movie in the context of our class because we often discuss Asian Americans and their relationships with white America, whereas this movie concentrated on the interaction between Asian Americans and African Americans. The relationship between these two groups is very complex, as can be seen in the movie. For example, the figure who closest adheres to the image of the model minority in his work ethic, composure, and drive to succeed is actually Demetrius, who is black and not Asian, providing evidence contrary to the common stereotype. Despite his success, not many people in the movie acknowledge Demetrius' hard work. Admittedly, being a carpet cleaner is not too glamorous a job, but it is still admirable that Demetrius is running his own business. In spite of his success, Demetrius doesn't seem to receive the proper amount of respect in the movie, whether it be from Meena's Indian family, the white loan officer in the bank, or even his own fellow African Americans. I think this irony (and inequity) is best commented on when Demetrius confronts Jay, saying that Jay shouldn't think (in a white manner) that he is better than Demetrius because of race when Jay and his family are not so different from Demetrius, save for a few shades of skin color difference.

I found this extremely interesting because Jay is not American, but Ugandan, yet the issues of racial division and perhaps superiority still make their ways into his actions. I thought that it would have made more sense that Jay feel more affinity to African Americans, seeing as how African people are who he grew up around. Additionally, I think minorities in the United States at least on a loose level, form solidarity due to a sense of common oppression from whites. On the other hand, Asians like Jay were kicked out of Uganda precisely because they were perceived as closed off and well off elitists by the black African majority, and in the United States, Asians are placed on a different tier of minority than blacks as well.

Ultimately, from a media point of view, the portrayal of Indians in this movie includes many Indian and Asian American stereotypes, including the ownership of motels, the closed traditions and community, the concern with money, and the sense of superiority and sacredness that the family seemed to show with regards to their traditions. At the same time, Meena's family's journey is also unique because they are not simply Indian Americans or Asian Americans, and as such, their narratives cannot be easily placed into those categories. Throughout the movie, there was no one way to term Meena's nationality/origin, masala being the best characterization of her identity. In this sense, I think this movie shows the complexities of identity well, showing viewers that there could be more to an individual than can be gleaned from a limiting categorical term like Asian American or Indian American.

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