When it comes to misrepresenting communities and cultures, Hollywood has been the guilty party for far too long. And while the world is moving on, there are a few stereotypes that Hollywood needs to let go of, when it comes to representing Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, etc.:
1. Yellow filter to show the difference between “first-world” and “third-world” countries.
Exactly how dirty does Hollywood think these nations really are? Yes, we could do with pollution control and cleanliness drives but our skies are not yellow… unless we view them through an Instagram filter. Like most Hollywood movies seem to do. Remember Extraction?
The yellow/orange filter used in Extraction has got to go.— Legend has it (@anecdocher) May 1, 2020
2. People using exaggerated accents when speaking in English.
Yes, we’ve come a long way from Apu in The Simpsons. But there is still the occasional inclusion of characters with heavily accented English that sound nothing like us. It’s racism and it needs to end.
3. The sheer lack of diversity.
Hinduism is not the only religion in India, and there is more to our nation than just deserts/forts and Goa. But for Hollywood, Mumbai is no different than Delhi or Bangalore (Gasps!), and regions like Ladakh, Meghalaya, Ranthambore, etc. don’t even exist. Simply put, if it’s not “Taaaj Mahaaal”, it’s not India. SMH! Similarly, while India may be a Hindu-majority nation, there are multiple different religions and communities that exist – and even basic research would make it clear that this diversity, is not that difficult to express.
4. The romanticization of poverty.
No Oscar can take away from the fact that Slumdog Millionaire, and many movies like it, repeatedly cross the line between showcasing realism, and indulging in poverty porn. There is nothing romantic about poverty and it’s not an ailment with a quick fix. Moreover, it’s not the only thing that defines a third-world nation. Poverty is a problem that needs a solution, but this ain’t it.
5. The white savior complex.
Hand-in-hand with the romanticization of poverty comes the ‘white savior complex’. While this is by no means restricted to just Asian countries (in fact, the complex has more often than not been extended to stories and characters involving African-Americans, or Native Indians), the idea that people of color need to be saved by white people suffers from a Colonial hangover we could do away with it.
6. The land of spiritual awakening, chakras, and Yoga.
But we’re also the land of ancient history (the second largest wall after the Great Wall of China is in India), lush and diverse biodiversity, sprawling tech industry (and no, not just call centres) and a horde of other things apart from Yoga and Chakras. There is nothing wrong in taking pride in Indian history of yoga and meditation, but to show only that one aspect, is a narrow-minded approach that focuses on exotic mysticism, rather than reality.
7. Where are the outfits that really represent India?
No matter how many years pass, I will never get over the insult that was served in the name of Parvati and Padma Patil’s costumes in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Phoenix. And that’s not the only time Hollywood movies and shows have messed up. When it comes to formal wear, India has developed a whole range of Indo-Western outfits. And yet, Hollywood is still stuck on simple lehengas and sarees (and that too just one kind, when the variety in India for saree alone is mind-boggling). Similarly, to expect even a slight variation in the multi-purpose salwar kameez is just setting yourself up for disappointment.
i really think Parvati Patil and Padma Patil deserved better outfits for the yule ball— ~ sans ~ (@aakhripastaaaa) October 22, 2019
8. The inability to pronounce Indian names.
If people can make the effort to speak French, then they can also make the effort to learn how Indian names (and even Chinese names, for that matter) are actually pronounced. The exaggerated pronunciations are just as bad as adopting English names because native names are not easy. Make an effort Hollywood, because it’s not that difficult. Not everyone messes it. And it is a big deal!
9. Every Indian is an Engineer or Doctor.
Just because a character is an NRI, does not mean that he can only be an engineer or doctor. And female characters are not just housewives. Of course, there is the third category – the token villain. We need well-rounded characters that actually represent the vast diversity that exists in our society, and token representation is definitely not the way forward.
Movies like The Hundred-Foot Journey or Life of Pi or The Namesake are exceptions, but it’s 2021. And cultural ignorance is no longer acceptable.
Is there a stereotype you’re tired of watching in Hollywood movies and shows? Let us know in the comments section below.