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Random Thoughts

Go Back Home, Darkie: The Racial Politics of the Movie “Lion” and the “Best Supporting Actor” Award

16.02.16

 

Dev Patel is possibly the most famous male British Asian actor. While he doesn’t star in big budget movies, he gets leading roles in films. He has championed British Asian causes. He has been a vocal critic of the lack of diversity in Hollywood. He has pointed out that Asian men aren’t offered any substantial roles. Recently, Dev Patel won “Best Supporting Actor” at the BAFTAs for his role in the movie “Lion”. He has also been nominated in the same category for the Oscars. In this short piece, I want to state why I, a British Asian male, will not celebrate his success. I will point out the devaluation strategy directed at British Asian heroes in the category of the award. I will then go on to point out that the movie gives out the wrong message to British Asian men and Indian ethnicity males from Western countries.

Firstly, I want to point out the devaluation strategy in the category of award. Why is Dev Patel being awarded and nominated for “Best Supporting Actor” when he is clearly the leading actor in the movie? There have been a number of interpretations for this categorisation. People have pointed out that Nicole Kidman is also nominated in the same category when she is the leading actress in the movie. They say that the category is easier to win.

I disagree with these interpretations. No category in acting is easier to win than any other. The reason that Dev Patel is relegated to supporting actor in a movie in which he is clearly the lead is because of his race. In the West, a British Asian man cannot be a hero. Can you think of one single movie where there has been a Western born man of Indian descent that is the hero in a serious movie? There aren’t any. The West cannot put an Indian descent man in the category of a hero. Even when they made a film about Mahatma Gandhi, he was played by a white man. In “Life of Pi”, the Indian descent man is only accepted as hero when is abstracted from society and culture. He can only exist where there is nature. Because the West devalues Indian descent men, the West cannot conceive of them as role models. It is therefore impossible for Dev Patel to be put into the category for “Best Actor”. He is necessarily relegated to the role of “Best Supporting Actor” in a movie in which he is clearly the lead actor. Of course, to cover over this strategy of devaluation, it therefore becomes impossible to nominate Kidman as a lead actor. The gross unfairness of the categorisation would therefore become visible.

The category of the award therefore indicates the devaluation of Indian descent men in Western countries. We are not allowed to be seen as heroes or role models. We are not granted proper personhood in representation and in film.

The movie “Lion” in which an Indian descent man stars also gives out the wrong message to British Asian men and Indian ethnicity males from Western countries. The movie is about an Indian descent man leaving the Western country in which he was raised and going back to India. What is problematic about this? It is experience that tells. I was brought up in a predominantly white area. As a result, I often heard the following words: Go Back Home. I could be walking in the high street with my brother and someone would shout them at us. They weren’t expressed as politely. I have heard these words numerous times in my life. If one criticises something in the country, one is told to go back home then. The movie is a literal enactment of the racist’s desire that Indian descent go back home. In the movie, the Indian descent man inflicts this banishment upon himself. The closing scene of the movie is when he is back in India, where the fantasy of the racist is achieved.

The message of the movie “Lion” is that Indian descent men have no place in the West. Their identity is tied to geography. The movie literalises the desire of the racists to remove Indian descent men from their countries. The movie literalises the achievement of no racial mixing. This self-imposed mission of the Indian descent male to go back home is shown as heroic instead of being revealed as the ultimate cowardice. The message that should have been given is that the Indian descent man should stay in the country in which he was raised in and fight.

Why has Dev Patel acted in this film? It is because of ignorance. It is a common strategy in ethnic minority cultures to talk about “traitors”. If someone does something that one does not agree with, they are called “traitors”. However, Dev Patel is not a “traitor”. He is ignorant. He is a dupe. The dupe works for someone in their game. The dupe is exploited. The dupe is a victim. Dev Patel’s award and nominations for “Best Supporting Actor” are reflective of the racial politics in the Western film industry. They are not the cause for celebration. They are sobering reminders of the position of Indian descent men in the West. The day when there is an Indian descent hero in a worthy filmic vehicle in the West remains a fantasy of the Indian descent male.

 

 

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