Avatar – Epitome of Apologetic White Guilt

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SPOILER WARNING.

It’s The Last Samurai in a new Avatar.

Ex-Marine from “jar-head clan” finds himself in a lush and rich planet called Pandora, falls in love with an exotic ‘native’ and becomes one with the ‘good indigenous people’ after warding off the evil humans trying to drill the planet for X natural resource. It all sounds eerily familiar.

Jack Sully, the lead antagonizing protagonist, is just like his surname. Hollywood-esque, most of the characters are reduced to mere caricatures. The scientist is the anti-imperialist, anti-corporate liberal do-gooder whereas the military official takes pleasure in blowing up things and the corporate honchos are only worried about PR and profits.

While perceived as anti-colonial, the entire narrative is still colonial, still about doing the right thing for “those people” from our point of view. The movie can be summed down to good white people vs. bad white people. Why the beautiful Na’vi princess, given all the stereotypical traits of human females, would ever choose to mate with the dull and dud white marine officer escapes all logic. The indigenous population is either put on a pedestal or reduced to some helpless aliens who cannot fight back humans without the heroic, liberal white male yearning to belong somewhere, given his own physical and mental incapacity. Whitey not only assimilates; he becomes their leader! It’s the ultimate white fantasy about race relations. The colonialism continues albeit it is neo-colonialism of white guilt in sci-fi terms.

Still, the movie gives us solid, entertainment value after spending some $300 million. I do wonder how the Na’vi would react to this narrative about them, told from the eyes of someone else.

Now we await the second-life video games enabling us to pick our own Avatars, fall in love with an exotic princess, and escape the horrendous conditions that human beings have created in the world around us. Whiteness is the ultimate privilege here, with the power to construct and refine good and bad, the power to choose sides, and the ultimate power to emerge as the victor.

And while we are at it, capitalism is having a good time as well with the cash registers running.

In Real Life, Sandra Bullock Would Be Deported

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Dear Ms. Bullock,

I have been a fan since Speed back in 1994 when I was barely 9. So it pains me to see one of my favorite actors make a movie that doesn’t paint a fair picture of U.S. immigration policies.

I took my mother out to see The Proposal yesterday–she had fun but even she recognized that it is not so easy to gain legal residency through marriage.

Forget the fact that this option is not even available to bi-national same sex couples for a second.

First, you wouldn’t be allowed to ‘jump in line’ ahead of the so-called gardeners and construction workers. “They are looking for terrorists, not book publishers” is just a line in the movie.

Second, the immigration official would have asked tougher questions, called your bluff within a minute and charged you with marriage fraud. Even if you wanted to return to Canada, you would be placed in an ICE detention center on taxpayer money to serve time for the felony. For meals, you would get peanut butter and jelly and that too, quite infrequently. You would also see people in the center that have been kept there indefinitely. You might even see children who should be in school, rather than locked away in detention.

In the meantime, ICE could lose your paperwork so even if you wanted to go back to Canada, you might not be able to do so voluntarily. Then you would wait for months more at the detention center to get a new passport or prove that you really have Canadian residency.

Finally, after many months, you would be allowed to go back on your own money.  But once outside the United States, you would not be able to come back for another 10 years, due to the 10-year ban for accruing illegal presence. The only way to circumvent this would be an I-601 waiver that no one could have filed for you.

So there is really no happily ever after here, except for the fact that Canada is just like the United States, only with free health care, a better banking system and same-sex marriage.

SlumDog Millionaire – Those Foreign Aliens Are Taking Our Oscars Too!

“It felt like an Indian movie awards function”
-Anil Kapoor, Indian actor

Jai Ho to Slumdog Millionaire! And Smile Pinky!

My Dad doesn’t do Oscar night. He says it is for the elitist, rich, snobby white people. But tonight he was pleasantly surprised.

A horde of Indian invaders and their British allies on tourist visas took home the coveted and prized Oscars as the world watched. One in particular, A R Rahman, dazzled and charmed everyone with his musical genius while also speaking sentences in Tamil. This is America, English-only!!

Obviously the title is a dig at nativists and xenophobes alike who are probably outraged at all the non-English singing and dancing at the Oscars, as well as the foreigners (brown people especially) getting awards. And they may not even be taxed!!

It totally deserved it! It’s like the little film that could…YAY!
– Lucy Ogbu

The Oscars are the ‘ultimate’ in terms of awards, and while that is as North-Atlantic-hegemony centric as it gets, when small movies like SlumDog Millionaire break into the big leagues, it is in a small way, counter-hegemonic for the entertainment world. It is a reply to Hollywood’s long rejection of Bollywood ‘musicals,’ as everyone seems to be dancing to Jai Ho.

Sure, it took a British director to make a movie on an ‘Indian subject’ to get Oscars for Indian technicians who have been doing superior work for decades (i.e. Gulzar, A R Rahman, Pookutty). Slumdog Millionaire is nowhere near the A-list of Bollywood movies given it’s simple tried-and-tested theme of love over money. And this isn’t A R Rahman or Gulzaar’s best work. At the same time, it is heartening to see these musical greats finally getting international recognition for what is ultimately an Indian movie. However, THAT should not be a marker for success. AR Rahman doesn’t need Hollywood; Hollywood needs him.

Real change would mean not leveraging the credibility of a movie or work of art on North Atlantic-centric, corporate award ceremonies. Why are the Oscars more noteworthy than the Filmfare Awards that are held by the biggest movie industry in the world?

Congratulations nonetheless, to Slumdog Millionaire and to every Indian that considers this their movie.

Light Up the Night – Milk – Was Dan White Gay?

“If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.” – Hermann Hesse

I took my mom to Berkeley yesterday to see Milk and saw it myself for the second time – incredible movie, please watch it in theaters if you get a chance.

In all seriousness, I didn’t get the point of ‘candle-light’ vigils before I watched the movie. I never thought about it as a symbolic message that could mean something — ‘beacons of light’ in the darkness of hate. I would have expected riots after Milk was shot dead and brutally killed. But the vigil picturized in the movie was simply heart-breaking and a mature response that I probably cannot undertake. Then again, violence begets more violence.

There is one underlying tone in the movie that still confuses me a second time around — Was Dan White a closet gay? Is there documented evidence of that? Is that why Harvey was so willing to accomodate the socially-conservative Irish-American who finally shot and killed him? There are times the screenplay comes close to revealing it only to shy away from it. If it indeed is true, it would make sense as to why Dan White would kill over a small political seat; it was not just about the seat. If he was indeed closeted, he probably resented the fact that Harvey Milk was so openly gay, yielded power because he was gay AND had more allies than him despite being gay. Internalized homophobia is one of the leading causes of hate against gays; see this study done in the 1990s –
Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender: Is Homophobia Associated With Homosexual Arousal?

I am crossing my fingers for Sean Penn to get an Oscar for his performance as Milk.