Mississippi Masala: Gaining Control over one’s Multi-ethnic identity – Hugo Anaya (3/3)

December 18, 2019 at 12:13 am Leave a comment

Ugandan native, Mina, embodies the cultural shift of women gaining control in media which allows her to depict a freshly new, and often ignored, perspective of cross culture representation. In Sarah Krakoff’s Film Review/Essay Media Masala: Why Women’s Control Matters, Krakoff argues that the media has a huge amount of power and influence in the shaping of perspective in media. Therefore, as women begin to gain control in the various aspects of media, whether that be on or off the screen, there begins to be a shift in perspective that is provided to its viewers and to a larger extent, societal norms[1]. Directed by Mira Nair, Mississippi Masala tells the forbidden love story between Asian Americans and Indian Americans as it attempts to depict the commonly ignored perspective of mix cultural identity. In the film, Mina (Sarita Choudhury), daughter of Jay and his wife, Kinnu, are forcefully removed from their home in Kampala, Uganda as a result of a 1972 policy enacted by dictator Idi Amin that kicked out all Asians from Uganda. As a consequence, the family relocated to Greenwood, Mississippi, where the young family reunite with family members who owned a motel chain. As a result of her growing up in the United States, Mina had an easier time embracing their new lifestyle and assimilating to the American culture. As a by-product of her Ugandan-Indian roots and American upbringings, we get to see a lot of moments in which Mina rejects the cultural expectations she is burden by her parents and community therefore gaining control over the life choices she makes throughout the film. One such instance is when Mina exercises control over her romantic life. Instead of taking the ideal suitor, Harry Patel, from her ethnic group, she chooses Demetrius, an African American carpet cleaner as her romantic choice. In making this decision, the audience gets to peer through the lens of an interracial couple experiencing the awkward and sometimes hostile interactions in the South instead of the often common visual of intermingling between Indian couples who are a product of their culture’s arraigned marriage customs. Therefore, as Mina begins to exercise more of her control from her multi-cultural identity, the audience gets to experience new perspectives that are often hidden or ignored in media and society.

Director Mira Nair uses the interracial romance between self-employed carpet cleaner Demetrius (Denzel Washington) and hotel maid Mina to explore the intricate relationship between multi-cultural identity, diasporism and home. Hamid Naficy’s Multiplicity and Multiplexing in Today’s cinema: Diasporic Cinema, Art Cinema, and Mainstream Cinema article explores the resurgence of a new mainstream cinema, in which she calls it “multiplex cinema”. This new form of cinema exists in a post-diasporic and post-Internet globalization world helmed by the multicultural and physically displaced filmmakers who are the leading voice in this new form of cinema[2]. According to Naficy, “As a result of their displacement from the margin to the centres, they have become subjects in world history; they have earned the right to speak and have dared to capture the means of representation” (Naficy 14)[3]. As a result, Naficy that the “multiplex cinema” we are seeing today represents the experiences, perspectives and visualization of a displaced group of people. Similar to the filmmakers, Mina is displaced from her home. Being of Indian descent but, born in Uganda, she experiences three forms of displacement throughout her life. Being born in Uganda with Indian descent illustrates the very first time in which Mina is displaced. In this instance, and throughout the film, we are reminded that although Mina may celebrate and exercise customs from her ethnic community, she has never actually been to India herself. Concurrently, the very same customs and practices that Mina and her family perform are the reason she is displaced, a second time, from her home country of Uganda, forcing her and her family to relocate somewhere else. Fast forward to the present day in the film, Mina lives in the United States alongside a small Indian community in the south. While her ethnic identity has followed her from Uganda, her American upbringing allows her to easily assimilate into the culture. However, in doing so we begin to see a mixture between both of her identities. We see this in the bar seen between Harry Patel and Mina where Mina’s family ethnic ties are the reason she shows up at the bar in the first place, yet due to the familiar ties with American hangout culture results in Mina being comfortable enough to stay at the bar whereas Harry Patel promptly leaves. While Mina has become much more comfortable with her life in American, the same can’t be said about her community. Her parents, in particularly her father, views their time in the US as a passing period in which he believes he will be able to go back to Uganda and continue his life there. Her community, a displaced group of Indians in Greenwood Mississippi, still heavily follows their traditions. Her date to the bar, Harry Patel is a suitable taker for her hand in marriage in her ethnic group. However, her diverse upbringing allows her to choose her romantic relationship with African American Demetrius. Her relationship with Demetrius is not received well, especially from her father who dislikes black people due to their involvement in him being kicked out of Uganda. Therefore, Mina and Demetrius are forced to leave their homes in order to pursue a love that is otherwise not received well in the Indian community. Similar to the filmmakers in Naficy’s article, Mina’s past in her diasporic Indian community and displacement from Uganda allows her to build a multicultural identity that displays the emergence of her control and voice.

[1] Krakoff, Sarah. Film Review/Essay Media Masala: Why Women’s Control Matters. Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California.

[2] Hamid Naficy (2010) Multiplicity and multiplexing in today’s cinemas: Diasporic cinema, art cinema, and mainstream cinema, Journal of Media Practice, 11:1, 11-20

[3] Hamid Naficy (2010) Multiplicity and multiplexing in today’s cinemas: Diasporic cinema, art cinema, and mainstream cinema, Journal of Media Practice, 11:1, 14

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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