One of the more defining moments of undergrad consisted of a student stating that she didn’t see Denzel Washington’s colour when she watches his films. That’s about when the class went to hell in a hand basket. Another student who is of Filipino descent retorted that she wished that she could see her image on TV, that she also wanted her story to be told. Because you know, it’s true, however distorted or limited the representation is, we still want to be present. We want our beauty, history and cultural practices to be counted.
You don’t know how exciting it was for me to grow up actually seeing Asian characters on weekly dramas. I loved that Christina Yang (Sandra Oh) was a surgeon, so driven and slightly socially awkward. Ming-Na’s character on ER was so empathetic and likeable. John Cho made guest appearances and you felt sorry for him that he worked too hard during residency and drove over someone with his car. God, were they all doctors? I’m cool with that. I liked this version of the assertive, well-adjusted and intelligent representations of my Asian heritage. I much preferred this to the geishas, silent and meek companions or much of nothing at all.
But my question is, where are all the South Asian men? We sure have a long way to go but there is hope. If you’ve never seen the film Cairo Time please go rent it right now. Like tonight. It beautifully portrays a friendship and attraction between Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig when she comes to visit the North African city. He serves as her companion to navigate the scorching streets and customs with more ease. The Egyptian culture is so beautifully rendered here through food, dance, family and colours. It’s brilliant. He is educated, liberal and works for the UN. This was the most positive and progressive representation of a South Asian man I had ever seen. Usually they are relegated to being terrorists, police officers or Saudi princes. This is similar to roles that Riz Ahmed (pictured below) is taking on of late. I’ve written of him briefly before but in short, he is an MC, attended Oxford, was a shit-disturber at his posh high school and is formed fully of charm and wit. I hope that he keeps working because I am actually excited for what he will bring to the table. In Closed circuit, which got awful reviews but I quite enjoyed, he is quote on quote a villain but as a member of MI5 he still complicates his exact motivations for carrying on the fight against terror. Ahmed adds more complexity and layers to where the British Muslim man exactly stands and it’s fascinating. We need more of this.
So my objective for writing this post is to remind us of the power of the media and films. They are not just sources for information or entertainment but help to act out the different textures of our lives. Observing one interpretation of a similar problem that you’ve encountered or a present one that you’re still grappling with, can allow us to tease out what kind of resolution we’re seeking. It helps us accept that more often than not there are no answers. It is also a rush to feel that difference is being represented. That difference is not considered ugly.