I keep thinking about Slumdog Millionaire, trying to understand my dislike for the film. It started out as an inability to see the magnificence that had been thrust upon the film, and now I simply do not like it. I am tired of thinking about it and talking about it and trying to place words to my feelings. I decided writing about it once more should help clear the air.
I have been conversing with different people while reading about the awards piling on and both praise and annoyance over this movie. Without having seen it Sadiqeh observed that in her experience white folk often enjoy movies about people of color they can relate to or where there is some sort of triumph over hardship; in other words yet another opportunity to pity.
While watching Slumdog I could not help but feel a colonial gaze over the entire thing. After all, the director, at least the one who is getting all the praise and taking all the credit, is Danny Boyle. The co-director, Loveleen Tandan has, with much protest from onlookers, not been nominated for the same awards Boyle has. That’s ok, too many women have received Oscars for directing anyway.
A friend passed on what I found to be an insightful observation of the film’s colonial lense, while also talking about enjoying the production: http://diaryofananxiousblackwoman.blogspot.com/2009/01/bollywood-meets-national-geographic-my.html
The author talks specifically about the imagery of a young Jamal covered in shit as reminiscent of comparisons made by whites of darker peoples’ skin to feces. She also mentions the use of the word “dog” in the title (the booked upon which it is based is titled Q & A) as being questioned due to the fact that dog was a term used by the English in reference to Indians. This author has also helped put into words or clarify for me some of my aversion to the film, that there is no context for the disturbing things viewers see, except that it all takes place in India. The child beggars and prostitutes, the evil adults, the rioting, the cheating, it all is part of the slum country where anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps – or in this case, the shoes the poor kid has to steal from Taj Mahal tourists! – and win millions just to show his love, not prove it.
I am reminded of my lack of interest in Kiterunner. I have never read nor seen the movie, and the main reason was that I did not trust the fact that the majority of people who praised it were white. I could not help but feel that this meant there must be something off about the story, or something to make “them” feel sorry for “us.” (And now that I know about a certain incident in the story I have no intention of ever reading or seeing it.)
I could not help but wonder how much praise Slumdog would receive if the director were Indian. But I guess who knows Indians better than the Brits!
All this aside, I have a problem with rags to riches stories. I find them ridiculous and providers of false hope. And in this case this Indian boy gains his new riches because of colonization through media. If it were not for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire he would still be serving tea.
And despite my political and social observations, I still remain clueless as to how this film is deserving of a best picture nomination, and not just from the Oscars. What is so brilliant about it? Yes, the cinematography is good, the music is great, the sets design, and costumes, but really? This is one of the top five? I would not say that the editing is anything worth raving about. Let’s just be honest and admit that when a movie makes this much money it has to get recognition. Titanic, anyone! Forrest Gump. Hell, Return of the Kingis not the best LOTR movie, but they had to give one of them Best Picture at the Oscars after three years and millions upon millions of dollars. Or maybe the Oscars folks feared some sort of Elfish riot from crazed fans.
Even if this film were brilliant in terms of production I still cannot get passed the colonial lense through which it is told. I admit to enjoying the dancing at the end, but even that seems random and insulting. Is this supposed to be some sort of shout out to Bollywood movies? Is this supposed to remind us that this is an Indian film, or take my attention away from the fact that Danny Boyle is behind the camera?
If this movie wins Best Picture it will be yet another reminder for me of why I hate the Oscars and as far as I am concerned can join the craptastic wins given to The English Patient, Crash, and others listed above.