Archive for November 7, 2019

Mississippi Masala: Ellen, Soren, Karen, Isaiah

Mississippi Masala (1991) is a romantic drama film directed by Mira Nair about an interracial relationship between an Indian Ugandan woman, Mina, and a Black American man, Demetrius. Nair is an India-born director who was educated at Delhi University and Harvard. Mississippi Masala was her second feature film and it won three awards at the Venice Film Festival including Best Screenplay and The Audience Choice Award. Nair researched both the history of Uganda and Ugandan Indians and dove deeply into the racial relations of a place like Mississippi to tell this story.

The beginning of the film depicts the forced removal of Asians in Uganda by former President Idi Amin in 1972, including Mina’s family. It delves into race relations between the Indian and Black communities in Mississippi where Mina and her family end up, drawing upon themes of solidarity, mistrust, and retaliation to depict where the line is drawn in their familiarity. Asian identity in this film is portrayed in comparison to and in conflict with Africans and Black Americans. The experience of being forcibly exiled from Africa by Africans has made some members of the community, particularly Jay, distrustful of any Black people. Racial relations are tense at best throughout the film. The love affair that Mina and Demetrius share reverberates through their respective communities and they suffer the consequences of pursuing an interracial relationship.

One element of Mississippi Masala‘s filmic language is its music, which changes based on the location, person, and emotion being shown. This music choice, which is quite varying, helps display the cultural and racial intermingling going on in the movie as well as the complicated nature of the identity of someone like Mina. The film also utilizes flashbacks. By repeatedly revisiting the Ugandan memories of Mina and Jay, it calls attention to how the experience of being removed from your home, and having to find your own in a world you feel is turned against you permeates the self and the experience. It highlights the difficulty of adjusting and accepting others as well as yourself.

A particularly climactic and representative moment in the film occurs between Demetrius and Jay when Demetrius asks to see Mina but Jay refuses this request. Demetrius accuses Jay of racism and colorism, saying that Indians liken themselves to White people when in the presence of Black people, though they are only a few shades of color apart. This clip expresses the intersection of racism and forbidden romance and serves as a commentary on how progress (like the overturning of anti-miscegenation laws) is impeded by the more rigid opinions of elder members of society and the complicated interactions between different groups of marginalized communities.

November 7, 2019 at 6:39 pm Leave a comment


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