Soon after discussing the film Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer and how minority communities view with concern films that play on minority stereotypes, I watched Growing Up Smith in which the minority is now Indian.
The story follows a simple ‘East Meets West’ formula. The Bhaskanagars are an Indian family that has moved into a small town somewhere in the South that seems to be entirely white and lower middle class. They do the traditional immigrant two-step, trying to fit in with the local community while desperately preserving what they can of their Indian culture and Hindu religious traditions, including a vegetarian diet and protecting their children from the corrupting influence of Western values. This extends to already having arranged marriages with people in India for their teenage daughter and ten-year old son Smith that will take place when the children reach adulthood. What they do not know is that the daughter is secretly dating a local boy and their son is infatuated with a neighbor Amy, a classmate and the daughter of Butch, a beer-drinking good ol’ boy who runs an auto repair business (whom Smith deeply admires because of his motorcycle riding, rugged cowboy looks) and his wife, who seem to be the only ones who are not church-goers in the community.
Almost every possible Indian immigrant stereotype is milked for humorous effect, such as the authoritarian father who has decided exactly what his son should be when he grows up, the submissive wife, the children’s embarrassment at their parents’ ignorance of American culture and mores and the resulting gaffes, and the children’s attempts to balance the two cultures and find some wiggle room of independence so that they can fit in with their peers while pleasing their traditional parents. Not being Indian myself (though many Americans have no idea that the country Sri Lanka exists and simply assume I am Indian) I could watch with some detachment but I am not sure how Indians would react to it.
There are plenty of plot holes and implausibilities in the film. For example, I am not sure if devout Hindus would allow their child to wear a costume of the god Ganesar for Halloween. Also, the younger son has a strong Indian accent but the older sister’s accent is milder. In reality, it would be the other way around, with young immigrant children quickly speaking like native children. Also, we are told by Smith that his father named his son that way thinking that was a good American name and not realizing that it was a last name. But since the son was born in India and came to the USA much later (which is presumably why he still has an accent), the reason for the name falls apart.
The film is passable mainly because of the engaging performances by the two young children Smith and Amy, and Butch.
Here’s the trailer.
According to Behind the Name, “Smith” did have a certain popularity as a personal name before about 1910:
A bit of browsing in Wikipedia finds at least one modern bearer of the name: