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July 05, 2019

#RepresentationMatters .. and even more so for South Asians

I remember sitting around with some girlfriends recently, all WoC and all of South Asian descent, talking about the upcoming Danny Boyle flick Yesterday. We laughed about how responses on Twitter were identical to ours: look, a brown bloke is the main guy and it’s not a movie about terrorists or IT – we’re watching it.

My brother-in-law lives in Nairobi; he spoke about how people in his hometown went to watch Black Panther in the cinemas 3-4 times. My husband spoke about how the black people in his office went around making W’s with their arms on their chests, saying ‘Wakanda Forever’ to each other. I remember reading Chrissy Teigen’s impassioned Instagram post after she first watched Crazy Rich Asians. I remember the amount of people who quoted it on Twitter, its sentiments resonating so strongly with them. Being seen is important.

Recently, I watched Aladdin. It wasn’t good. Here’s the problem; all brown people don’t have the same culture, roots or ethnic identity and pretending they do – even in a world with blue genies – isn’t helping anyone feel visible. In fact, like not seeing threads for the tapestry, it makes you feel more invisible. Now, it may sound excessively optimistic to the point of stupidity to expect a Disney movie to be receptive to the nuances of any culture… Or would it? Though an Arab market might have every creed of merchant or consumer imaginable, Disney’s approach was to base their entire narrative in a world utterly devoid of specification, apart from everyone mostly being brown-ish. But then, we’re literally referencing cultures so completely, geographically and historically different that to conflate them seems insane. Especially in 2019.