“Do you have any idea what it’s like, how every day my real brother screams my name?”
Yesterday me and my boyfriend went to see the film Lion starring Dev Patel. Here's the trailer:
It's really telling how brown folks who want to encourage and support brown folks are readily willing to invest. Nivake and I killed 2 hours of time and chose to watch this movie, which was hardly being played in any theaters. And we did this because there were brown people on screen. It made sense to want to see people like us-- brown, raised in an English country, etc. That honestly was the extent of the similarities between Dev's character, Saroo, and us. We chose to watch the movie in Brampton, an area in the Greater Toronto Area called "Brown Town." This is uncomfortable and incredibly reductive of the conglomeration of brown folks for multiple reasons, but that's another story. Here's a link to an article that expresses my concerns really well, if you want to read on it. So I started counting the heads of the people coming in, and realized that the audience of the movie was elderly and white.
What? These were the audiences that watched Blind Side and The Help and thought that white people weren't so bad. They basked in the feel good effect that catered to white people who "weren't racist". And then I watched the trailers-- one of the movies featured was produced by the same people who made Blind Side and Life of Pi. The end of the same trailer played a song by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Okay, sis. I knew it. I was in a elderly white liberal haven.
The movie started and honestly the first 45 minutes were amazing because it was exclusively set in India and showed how a child named Saroo was separated from his family. Him and his family were incredibly impoverished, and he became a street child, who learned the antics of surviving in India. He encountered multiple people until he reached an orphanage-- two being a man and woman who seemed to want to sell him into child prostitution. It was repulsive that these were the images of India that this audience was consuming. The beautiful nature and landscapes juxtaposed with evil, impoverished, and helpless subjects.
Eventually Saroo gets adopted by an Australian couple, the mother and wife, Sue, being played by Nicole Kidman. I was all up in my feelings the entire movie when I saw that he was given to a family that owned a TV and food stored in a refrigerator, but it was predominantly because I was mourning for the mother back in India. She never had a chance to have the joy of children. No one cared that she didn't have the chance either. It's as though brown, impoverished women are not due children.
Dev Patel does a convincing and beautiful job playing the role of Saroo. He's obsessed with finding his biological mother and the ways in which he shows his current relationships dissolving made it understandable as to why he received an Oscar nod. However, I was personally more impacted by the performance of a young Saroo by Sunny Pawar. He did a brilliant job being a child-- vulnerable, yet strategic with the ways he chose survival. He was incredibly adorable and it made it very devastating when I watched the film and witnessed his mistreatment.
There are parts of the film that made me cringe. First, he had a white girlfriend, Lucy, who seemed too interested in South Asian culture, and who told Saroo he "had to face reality." That sounds like some shit that a white person tells a brown person when they deny the existence of racism or discrimination. This was Saroo's reality-- trying to understand his complicated identity that he could not let go. There was another part of the film when Sue said that she had a dream with a "brown skinned boy". *Cringe.* Why brown skinned? Is that why she went to India to adopt? Is society so constructed for us to believe that those in need of being adopted and those who are the most helpless are brown skinned? To the point where Sue subconsciously thought that she needed to save one? Oh, Sue.
I cried a lot (especially at the reunion of Saroo with his biological family). And I was happy with Dev and Sunny's roles. I just wish that there could be Western images and film that portrayed brown people as loving, supporting, and uplifting other brown folks. We don't need white intervention for survival.