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I Get Mail – Khan

How could someone with surname Anwar play Margaret Tudor? How could Denis Anthony La Fontaine have been Indian Air Chief Marshall? It’s almost as though names needn’t correspond to one’s image of how someone with that name should look.

Because Anwar looks incredibly white and India has Christians who have Christian names.

Anwar was picked because she looked white enough. La Fontaine is an Air Chief Marshall and his ethnicity is not of importance. In fact he is probably like me… A Tamil. Some of us are very fair (Tamils normally have darker skin. Some of us are “black” some of us are “brown” and some of us are “white”. If i stay out of the sun for enough time I can be confused with italian or greek. My mother looks white)

However. You must remember that Indian actors in western cinema are only making it big recently. Until  recently Indians didn’t get much portrayal and those that did didn’t portray Indians in a positive light. For a LONG time Apu from the Simpsons was the most positive image Indians had in American Culture. The UK had a better portrayal of Asians too. We are con men, spies, doctors in addition to shop keepers and taxi  drivers.

Khan was one of the first Indian characters on TV or Cinema where he wasn’t a gigantic stereotype. They had to get a mexican to play him because there were no Indian actors at the time. Now we don’t have that excuse.

If you made Uhura white or Chekov not Russian or Sulu white or had Scotty speaking with a Czech accent, people would have been pissed off.

Part of Khan was that he bucked the trend of Indians being poor, snivelling shop keepers or taxi drivers or terrorist no 3. Which is why it would be nice if Khan actually stuck to the original design where he was “Indian” or at least LOOKED like one. I don’t know what’s more insulting.

The Browning up of Ricardo Montalban (I can atleast see why they did it) or the simple casting of a white guy to play the “Indian Superman”. It wasn’t commentary about Indians and their fascination for “Whiteness” it was a thoughtless casting choice that made it seem that the ideal Indian is white. It’s not malice.

Just ignorance and thoughtlessness.

Comments

  1. Nathair says

    They had to get a mexican to play him

    He may have been born in Mexico but both his parents were from Spain. As we’re talking about ethnic origins I’d be inclined to say they had to get a Spanish actor.

    /quibble

  2. says

    I was unaware of that.

    And yes they had to “swarthy him up”.

    It’s not as bad as other movies but it’s still annoying. Considering Star Trek’s legacy in progressive thinking for the time that casting choice was simply “weird” at best and “insensitive” at worst.

  3. Scr... Archivist says

    I have a question about casting being done right. Would the following be an example?

    There is a scene in The Sixth Sense (1999) in which a couple are shopping for a wedding ring. They are played by Firdous Bamji, who is from India, and Samia Shoaib, who is from Pakistan.

    When I saw this I was struck by how rare it is to see South Asian characters doing things that any (usually white) background character might do. The only stereotype I noticed there was how the man was reluctant to pay that much but the woman thought it was the perfect ring. But this had nothing to do with their ethnicity.

    It is just a little scene, but did the filmmakers get it right? Are these depictions of “normal people leading normal lives” the sort of thing we need more of?

  4. says

    We actually wear wedding rings in Hinduism for the sake of western people. Normally we wear a gold chain to symbolise marriage.

    See that was fine. Shopping for jewellery is something everyone enjoys. Normal people in normal lives and when you have an Indian in your show/movie at least try and not whitewash them!

  5. Scr... Archivist says

    Avicenna, thanks for the reply.

    And thanks for that little detail about gold chains. I had never heard of that before. Looking back at that movie, I got the impression that the couple were either Americans or Britons. It works either way.

  6. says

    I think part of the issue was if they had an Indian actor, they thought the audience woudl guess his identity, because being Khan is the only reason to be Indian in movies these days.

  7. Rob Grigjanis says

    Part of Khan was that he bucked the trend of Indians being poor, snivelling shop keepers or taxi drivers or terrorist no 3. Which is why it would be nice if Khan actually stuck to the original design where he was “Indian” or at least LOOKED like one.

    Fair enough. I was caught up with thinking “what’s in a name”, without thinking enough how it might feel to people of Indian descent. Tripped up by privilege.

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