Hey, Americans, Happy Thanksgiving. That means stuff your face and watch some movies! I’m catching up on film, including The Namesake from 2006. One scene got me thinking about relationships between Asians and non-Asians–how their cultural navigations are portrayed in film. Here’s just a few that stick out–add a few of your own.
In The Namesake, Mira Nair’s adaptation of the Jhumpa Lahiri novel, Gogol (Kal Penn) takes his white girlfriend Max (Jacinda Barrett) home to meet his very traditional Indian parents. Max ignores many of the politely-given instructions on cultural taboos to respect. I cringed. But the real kicker was when she asked to attend a family mourning ceremony. “I wanna go to India with you to spread the ashes!” Good Lord! Gogol’s in mourning, and she’s gripping his arm, wheedling her way into a trip abroad. I know what the white girl wanted….the trip to India would “prove their love.” But it came across like attending a family mourning ceremony was another notch to make in her cultural-experiences belt. That really bothered me.
How about Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story? There’s a blast from interracial dating’s past–made in 1993, the film is based on Linda Lee Caldwell’s true story of falling in love with the studliest, Bruce Lee (played by Jason Scott Lee). In 1960s California, an Asian man and a white woman faced a great deal of discrimination. A couple of scenes stay with you. Remember when they had their first date, and the restaurant host made them sit at the bar? Or, when Bruce went to meet Linda’s mother, Vivian (Michael Learned), and Mother Dearest asked Linda, “Are you pregnant?” and Bruce almost broke his teacup? Of course, that must have been the only reason a white girl would take a Chinese boy home. And then, her mother says, in front of Bruce, “Yellow babies? Is that what you really want?” Ohhhhh….that just went right through me. And I first saw that film before I even met my hubby! Let me just tell you, Mrs. Bigot, my “yellow babies” are the greatest.
Okay, one more. We’ll go back to Bengali and hit some politics with Mississippi Masala, Mira Nair’s 1991 feature debut. An Indian family is kicked out of Uganda by the cruel dictator Idi Amin, and relocates to Mississippi. Their daughter, Meena (Sarita Choudry), falls for Demetrius (Denzel Washington). And they’re mad. They have this past bad blood with African people. The racist attitudes of their white Deep South neighbors coundn’t have helped. The result is something of a maelstrom, and well worth watching.
It’s fascinating to me how pervasive racism is. Even those who have experienced it still sometimes subject others to it. At the same time, interracial relationships often have to navigate considerable cultural differences. Real discrimination can get mixed up in legitimate concern over these matters.
Interracial relationships in film give us a window into what really happens when people who don’t look alike fall in love. I want to hear from you. Tell me some of your favorite films and scenes of interracial love. What made you cry? What made you laugh? What made you think?