“Its charming inoffensiveness is at the root of its insidious politics.”
October 9, 2017 3:51 PM   Subscribe

Why does Hollywood keep churning out racist fantasies like ‘Victoria & Abdul’? by Bilal Qureshi [The Washington Post] ““Victoria & Abdul,” [YouTube][Trailer] is keenly aware of that history and yet intentionally chooses to keep its audience entertained on the lush grounds of Victoria’s palaces, parlors and gardens. We see the empire as she did: a confection, a distant dream, a realm of personal prizes. For a film about the legacy of a global empire, that is intentionally and unforgivably narrow. Abdul’s world is shown through hazy and cliched scenes of exotic marketplaces and in the distant tourist views of a glimmering Taj Mahal. There is no real conversation or parity between Victoria and Abdul. In the screenplay, his character is simply there to serve as her Manic Pixie Dream Brownie. There are several scenes of him simply collapsing to the ground to kiss her feet. Abdul joins a long line of South Asian male characters relegated to prop status in Hollywood features. Once they were silent servants in black and white adventure films a la “Gunga Din,” then accented comedic sidekicks or exotic freak shows, and in recent years, terrorist villains in newsy thrillers. In “Victoria & Abdul,” he is an object of exotic eroticism.”

• Victoria and Abdul: The Truth About the Queen’s Controversial Relationship by Julie Miller [Vanity Fair]
“The relationship between Queen Victoria and her handsome, young Indian attendant Abdul Karim was deemed so controversial and scandalous by her family members that, upon the monarch’s death in 1901, they scrubbed his existence from royal history. According to The Telegraph, Victoria’s son Edward immediately demanded that any letters between the two found on the royal premises be burned. The family evicted Karim from the home the queen had given him, and deported him back to India. Victoria’s daughter Beatrice erased all reference to Karim in the Queen’s journals—a painstaking endeavor given Victoria’s decade-plus relationship with Karim, whom she considered her closest confidante. The royal family’s eradication of Karim was so thorough that a full 100 years would pass before an eagle-eyed journalist noticed a strange clue left in Victoria’s summer home—and her consequential investigation led to the discovery of Victoria’s relationship with Karim. But why was the relationship so controversial—beyond the interclass curiosity of the Queen of England confiding in a servant—that it warranted full censure?”
• Victoria and Abdul is another dangerous example of British filmmakers whitewashing colonialism by Amrou Al-Kadhi [The Independent]
“For she is the “Empress of India” – a fact we are reminded of over and over again. While Queen Victoria, by treating Abdul like an exotic pet, is offered a new lease of life, what does Abdul gain? Well, as he gleefully expresses, “the great privilege” of being among the “glorious people” of the British Empire (what else?!). His proximity to royalty and reign renders him oblivious to the horrors of British colonialism. Abdul’s compassion for the Queen doesn’t even falter at the death of his fellow Indian servant (who dies as a suffering slave, owned by the British). The final scene – at which I audibly groaned with disgust – sees Abdul, back in India, kissing the feet of a Queen Victoria statue, which reigns resplendent in front of the Taj Mahal. Period dramas such as this are dangerous. They are pitched as light entertainment: tonally soft with a peppering of low stakes conflict – but they are rooted in the merciless grip of British imperialism. Films like Victoria & Abdul seek to absolve our barbaric behaviour in colonised countries.”
• Victoria and Abdul: The Friendship that Scandalized England by Kristin Hunt [Smithsonian Magazine]
“Queen Victoria’s first impression of Karim was recorded in her diaries, where she deemed him “tall with a fine serious countenance.” After their jubilee duties concluded, Karim and Buxshe traveled with the queen to her summer home on the Isle of Wight. There, Karim distinguished himself by surprising the sovereign with one of his favorite recipes. Using spices he had brought from Agra, Karim cooked a chicken curry with dal and pilau. According to Victoria biographer A.N. Wilson, the queen declared the dish “excellent” and added it to her regular menu rotation. Eager to immerse herself further in Indian culture, Victoria asked Karim to teach her Urdu, or, as it was known at the time, Hindustani. Their lessons initially seemed somewhat relaxed. “Am learning a few words of Hindustani to speak to my servants,” Victoria wrote. “It is a great interest to me, for both the language and the people.” That interest soon turned to zeal. In an effort to improve communication between teacher and student, the queen doubled Karim’s English lessons, and he was a fast learner. Within two months, Victoria had ceased sending Karim instructions through her staff and begun writing him directly. Within a few more, she had bestowed upon him the title of Munshi Hafiz Abdul Karim, making him her official Indian clerk and relieving him of his menial duties. This developing relationship alarmed members of the court, because it felt all too familiar.”
• The royals and race: from Victoria and Abdul to Harry and Meghan Markle by Kate Williams [The Guardian]
“And therein lies the real fear about Karim’s place in the Queen’s affections – not that he was foreign, from the empire, from the lower middle classes or much younger than her, but because he was “brown”. The relationship violated Victorian taboos of race and class – and the household and royal family hated Karim. Almost immediately, they wanted him out of the palace. Any discussion of royalty is pervaded by an obsession with blood purity and unbroken lines of inheritance for both power and genes. Until recently, the fathers of royal brides had to swear their daughters were virgins, and when the law was changed in 2013 to allow girls to succeed to the throne with the same rights as boys, there was a debate over whether adopted children or even those conceived through IVF should be allowed those rights. And the obsession with lines and blood is often couched in notions of racial superiority. The phrase “blue blood” – generally used now to denote royalty – comes from the Spanish sangre azul, meaning someone whose skin was so pale you could see blue veins, differentiating the royals from both the tanned peasants working in the fields and the people of colour who were increasingly part of European society.”
• Victoria, Abdul And The Romanticisation Of Empire by Amit Singh [Consented]
“The role of the film is to once again present colonialism as something palatable and even nice, whilst whitewashing the image of the Royal Family and in particular that of Queen Victoria. The idea is that this is a really nice, quirky story that will be a box office hit. However, without mentioning Britain’s brutal colonial past and highlighting the horrors of Empire, the film is going to be grossly inaccurate and thus nothing more than propaganda. Unfortunately, no one should be that surprised by this outcome, the movie is merely reflective of wider British society which always tends to romanticise India. India did after all hold a special place in the colonial imagination, given it’s title of the “Jewel in the Crown”. Such romanticism is is often reflected by middle and upper class people who call their children “India” and talk about their love of the “Raj” whilst failing to educate themselves on the realities of Empire. Instead, these types tend to take the Niall Ferguson “but we built them the railways” approach to decoloniality. Such people likewise tend to travel extensively to South Asia in order to “find themselves” and revel in the “spirituality” of the region, whilst sitting cross legged on a yoga retreat, believing themselves to be having a wonderful cultural experience.”
• Victoria and Abdul Tells an Important History, but Forgets a Crucial Perspective by Charline Jao [The Mary Sue]
“However, as beautiful as this story of friendship appears and as critical the film is of the racism Karim faces, it stumbles more when trying to address the backdrop of colonialism. The violence of the British Empire is mostly a sidenote, mostly voiced by the less privileged attendant Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar) who names Victoria as oppressor. Victoria is portrayed as mostly oblivious to the conditions of the British presence in India, and her ignorance of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 is the focal point of one subplot. The film is by no means an active promotion of empire, even making a few small jokes at the Empire. When Karim and Mohammed first arrive in Britain, they’re told, “Welcome to civilization” as they look at the disgusting shipyard in horror. The British ignorance of India is played for laughs. Still, while these small jokes allude to awareness, they fall short in compensating for the lack of dimensionality in Karim. It is this side-stepping that the film struggles with, as Victoria is given many beautiful speeches, moments of triumph and despair, and vulnerability. Karim, in contrast, remains a mostly one-dimensional character seemingly present only to incite these changes within Victoria.”
posted by Fizz (52 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well its not really Hollywood is it? Its another in a long chain of UK 'heritage cinema' productions, churned out to be non-threatening to a particular demographic and make a decent return. Its not really interested in the realities of colonialism or in questioning its audience's thinking beyond some reassurance that they are not racist and are generally on the right side of history.
posted by biffa at 4:06 PM on October 9 [16 favorites]


Hollywood here is a metonym for the film industry. Most LA films aren't shot in Hollywood either.
posted by maxsparber at 4:13 PM on October 9 [7 favorites]


This is getting deraily, but I think biffa’s point that this is a particular form of racism and orientalism, and somewhat different from the American film industry's horrible track record, is not unreasonable.

Saturday, I was walking by the local art house cinema, saw this on the marquee, and thought “I bet I know how this goes...” I can’t say I’m pleased to discover my instincts were right.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:45 PM on October 9 [19 favorites]


Victoria's PR rehabilitation continues.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 4:56 PM on October 9 [3 favorites]


Is it really the responsibility of filmmakers who want to tell the story of one Indian's relationship with Victoria to expose, address and condemn the entire immensity of Great Britain's exploitation of India? Why not, while they are at it, address the fundamental inequalities and injustices within British society during that era, and the undemocratic nature of the institution of royalty? There's only so much you can do in a two-hour movie, you know.
posted by beagle at 4:56 PM on October 9 [11 favorites]


Is it really the responsibility of filmmakers

Yes.
posted by tobascodagama at 4:57 PM on October 9 [73 favorites]


Its not a very helpful metonym if there are distinct cultural differences arising from the specificity of the origins of the film's developers and intended audience. The films seems likely to represent race somewhat differently from the approach that would be taken if the film originated in the US, and also with a different approach to historical representation (possibly including the representation of colonialism as less problematic than it might be regarded elsewhere) and coloured by a knowledge on the film maker's part of what will be desirable in a specific market, which has cultural preferences which can be distinguished from the US market.
posted by biffa at 4:59 PM on October 9 [9 favorites]


"Queen Victoria has unusual friendship" was also the plot of 1997's Mrs. Brown, oddly also with Judi Dench as Victoria. Is she planning to complete the trilogy in 2037?
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:01 PM on October 9 [30 favorites]


The films seems likely to represent race somewhat differently from the approach that would be taken if the film originated in the US, and also with a different approach to historical representation (possibly including the representation of colonialism as less problematic than it might be regarded elsewhere)

Colonialism is problematic no matter which side of the pond you're on. The fact that it's likely to be more palatable on one side does not make it more acceptable. If anything, Britain should be even more sensitive and aware of the legacy of Empire and how destructive it was to people who were forced to live under their rule.
posted by Fizz at 5:10 PM on October 9 [11 favorites]


Is there a list somewhere of all the unusual friendships that Victoria had
posted by Apocryphon at 5:11 PM on October 9 [24 favorites]


This was such a missed opportunity to create a post-Brexit film on the effects of colonialism.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:12 PM on October 9 [6 favorites]


Is there a list somewhere of all the unusual friendships that Victoria had

Here you go.
posted by Fizz at 5:12 PM on October 9 [15 favorites]


Its not a very helpful metonym if there are distinct cultural differences arising from the specificity of the origins of the film's developers and intended audience.

Jesus fucking Christ, it's co-produced (via Working Title) and distributed by Universal. Hollywood has its fingers all over this. The headline is accurate. Let it go.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:18 PM on October 9 [20 favorites]


Is it really the responsibility of filmmakers who want to tell the story of one Indian's relationship with Victoria to expose, address and condemn the entire immensity of Great Britain's exploitation of India?

Yes, it absolutely is the responsibility of filmmakers to not portray the horrors of British colonialism as hunky dory because Vicky once learned a brown guy's name and how to say "I am the ruler of all I survey" in Urdu.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:24 PM on October 9 [35 favorites]


There's only so much you can do in a two-hour movie, you know.

Sure, and I agree with you, but the beautiful thing about movies is that they don't have to address everything head-on in the storytelling: they can hint, suggest, embody different perspectives as part of a myriad of stylistic choices, from photography to music to casting. Part of my continual gripe about Hollywood movies refusing to present non-mainstream perspectives is that these white-washed, dude-washed, whatever-washed stories make for utterly predictable, dead-boring viewing experiences. By ignoring history and reality—not only in subject matter, but also in imagery, in dialogue, in all the subtleties the medium affords—these filmmakers (and probably more accurately, these producers) make really bad movies.
posted by materialgirl at 5:27 PM on October 9 [10 favorites]


Is it really the responsibility of filmmakers who want to tell the story of one Indian's relationship with Victoria to expose, address and condemn the entire immensity of Great Britain's exploitation of India?

Maybe it's not as bad as, say, "The Day the Clown Cried", but it's as tone-deaf and problematic as "Life is Beautiful".

Could it be a well-filmed movie? Sure. Did it get there by sanitizing and glorifying empire while ignoring all of the horridness of colonialism? Yes.

Do you want to be complicit in continuing that sort of whitewashing of history?
posted by anem0ne at 5:32 PM on October 9 [4 favorites]


I wonder what Shrabani Basu thinks of the film; her story of reestablishing Abdul Karim’s role from marginalia, despite palace (and historian’s) censure would perhaps have made for a framing that could have helped avoid retreading such common racist ground/tropes.
posted by progosk at 5:35 PM on October 9 [18 favorites]


Hollywood here is a metonym for the film industry. Most LA films aren't shot in Hollywood either.

Forget it max, it's metafilter.
posted by valkane at 5:54 PM on October 9 [9 favorites]


These kinds of films are exhausting to watch as an Indian. I've seen so many of them: Gunga Din, A Passage to India, Gandhi, The Man Who Would Be King, The Deceivers.

Give any of those a watch and you'll find that my people are painted in the worst of ways, all manner of racist caricatures. Even worse, they're often portrayed by white actors in brown-face (I'm looking at you Alec Guiness and Ben Kingsley) as they act out these stereotypes.

If you want to tell a story from this time and this place, good, there's nothing wrong with that. There's a lot of history to explore, stories that should be shared. But to try to make this time period rosy and cheerful and to mask the ugliness that rests just beneath the surface. Fuck off with all that noise. That was a long and dark time for my people and for many others who lived under this Empire.
posted by Fizz at 5:57 PM on October 9 [38 favorites]


What do you people want? A friggn documentary? Do you have any idea what the box office is for a docu? Do you own a really strong microscope, it'll take two to see the bottom line for documentaries, and just knowing the local demo, yes this is total sarcasm, but the frggn truth. The truth according the Weinstein, so yes, so so much worse.
posted by sammyo at 6:02 PM on October 9 [2 favorites]


So no one here has read the novel by Shrabani Basu?
posted by Ideefixe at 6:11 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]


Is it really the responsibility...

Because my standards/expectations are low, I'll accept "just don't be orientalist" in lieu of actual "confront it obliquely", "confront it directly", or "confront all power-related oppressions en masse". Seems they didn't even make it that far though.
posted by traveler_ at 6:14 PM on October 9 [12 favorites]


(The recent interview Basu just tweeted, by a particularly prurient TV journalist, does not go into her impression of the movie itself, sadly...)
posted by progosk at 6:16 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]


I'm looking at you Alec Guiness and Ben Kingsley

Ben Kingsley is the stage name of Krishna Bhanji, son of Rahimtulla Bhanji and Anna Goodman.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:25 PM on October 9 [64 favorites]


I have never bothered to look at his wiki. Thanks for dropping that knowledge. Still not a huge fan of that portrayal of Gandhi but that's good to know. I appreciate your sharing that.
posted by Fizz at 6:35 PM on October 9 [10 favorites]


There are different sorts of this kind of movie. There's the Sam-Waterson-is-worried movie, the first of which that I saw being "The Killing fields", where you weren't expected to care about the Cambodian Genocide unless Sydney Schanberg did. Then there're the white-people-fix-it movies like "Mississippi Burning", where you aren't expected to be interested unless the hero is white. And then there are movies like this, which I guess are I-like-Victorian-style-bric-a-brac-so-I-guess-I'm-interested-in-Queen-Victoria-and-I guess-this-will-be-elevating-plus-I-like-Judi-Dench movies.

I hasten to say that the first two are pretty good movies, and the magazine article on which "The Killing Fields" is based is actually excellent and can't help its Sydney Schanberg focus since it's by Sydney Schanberg. These movies can be useful. A young man who used to work with me was really captivated by "Mrs. Brown" and asked me dozens of questions about Victorian England that would never have come up normally. He was pretty Islamophobic due to a diet of Fox News, so I hope he sees this movie.
posted by acrasis at 6:54 PM on October 9


I don't think every period piece has to take the reality of colonialism head-on, but it is so exceedingly rare that it would be refreshing to see it addressed, even subtly. By all accounts of this movie, Abdul is played as a one-dimensional character who is just used to prop up the white protagonist, and that to me also seems like a missed opportunity, not to mention racist.
posted by shalom at 7:35 PM on October 9 [4 favorites]


So no one here has read the novel by Shrabani Basu?

It's classified as biography, not fiction. Or do I need my sarcasm detector adjusted?
posted by great_radio at 8:30 PM on October 9


Ben Kingsley is the stage name of Krishna Bhanji, son of Rahimtulla Bhanji and Anna Goodman.

Heh :-) I'm always surprised when people's real stories turn out to be more exciting than the head-canon I invent about them.

I presumed Kingsley was Jewish, because he's played Jewish characters and I know a Jewish family woth the same surname. I thought he was from one of those Iranian-Jewish Indian families or something. It turns out he isn't (at least in his eyes), although he likely has some Jewish ancestry on his mother's side. He did a good job in Gandhi and (like Gandhi) his father's side actually comes from Gujarat. It's not a small place, but still: quite a coincidence.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:36 PM on October 9


What do you people want? A friggn documentary?

No, I think we want movies where the frigging non-white people get to be the center of their own frigging stories.

And this isn't exclusive to East Asian/English colonialism. The story of the Navajo Code Talkers during World War II could be the inspiration for an amazing damn movie. I know you're thinking "but wait, didn't they already make a movie about the Codetalkers?" You're probably thinking of the movie Windtalkers. However, Windtalkers was not actually about the Code Talkers. It was about Nicholas Cage having manpain, which is healed thanks to a Navajo sidekick.

Just like this is not about a breakthrough in relations between East and West. It is about Queen Victoria getting her groove back thanks to an Indian sidekick.

It's like the studios are afraid that we need a White Lead (tm) as a condom or something in order to go with the story. And that's insulting. Hell, I'm insulted by that assumption and I'm a white chick; I can only imagine how much more frustrating this must be for others.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:42 PM on October 9 [39 favorites]


God forgive me, but the article actually made me slightly more likely to want to see the movie. I originally thought it was a pale imitation of Mrs. Brown, in which Judi Dench playing Victoria had a socially unacceptable friendship with a salt of the Earth Scotsman (as opposed to exotic an Indian.) Finding out this is pitched as light comedy made me think the entertainment value is potentially higher.

The actual discussion here (plus a couple minutes thought) have convinced me I should sit this one out though. I don't have the same emotional reaction to British whitewashing their colonial history that I do to America whitewashing our genocides, but I think I can safely sit out a single Judi Dench costume drama in favor of the 600 others that are already available.
posted by mark k at 10:37 PM on October 9 [2 favorites]


Finding out this is pitched as light comedy made me think the entertainment value is potentially higher.

Aren't they always pitched this way? I have no intention of seeing the film but this sort of thing is always a risk at family Christmases. But I think I can pretty accurately picture the exact look on Judi Dench's face as she puts someone in their place to the chuckles of the audience.

Colonialism is problematic no matter which side of the pond you're on.

Did I say otherwise? No, I did not. My point, and I think it is pretty relevant, is that films like this will soft pedal the wider evils of colonialism in a way which suits their audience, which is not primarily a US one. They favour picking out a little emotionally manipulative story which touches on individual injustice. Extra boxes to tick include playing up the UK as having had an empire, wedges in a royal, and plays up how dreadfully constrained people were by social class back in the day.

Nice costumes is essential obviously.
posted by biffa at 1:27 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]


I should have known. I was kinda keen to see this as it looked fun, but will probably skip it now.
posted by freethefeet at 2:29 AM on October 10


Ben Kingsley's grandfather was likely Russian Jewish, according to his biographers. This doesn't make him Jewish, but it does give him Ashkenazi heritage.

One can be both Indian and Jewish, by the way. Jews have been in India for quite a long time.
posted by maxsparber at 4:24 AM on October 10 [4 favorites]


I have been seeing posters for this on buses, and guessed that this was going to be Cuddly Colonialism With Cheerful Brown People. Again.

I think timing is another thing here; the Washington Post article briefly mentions Brexit, but I feel it's important. The Brexit fantasy is a Colonial one - if you look at the negotiations with India, they've been pushing for India to open up to British exports, but completely refusing India's counter-proposal for more relaxed visa terms for Indian nationals. Like India should go back to the status it had as a colony - a resource/market for what the UK needs, with almost nothing in return.

This brand of Cuddly Colonialism (and probably to a lesser extent British period dramas in general) is popular and I think is the image that most white British people have of the Empire. . Brexit is people in power going with this populist narrative (illustrated by Boris Johnson), and ending up with delusions of superpower status "like a drunk man in a bar trying to start a fight with a guy twice his size".
posted by Vortisaur at 7:10 AM on October 10 [10 favorites]


I'm kind of surprised Judi Dench agreed to do this. Yes, she can do this kind of role in her sleep, but wouldn't that make it terribly boring for an actor?
posted by orrnyereg at 7:18 AM on October 10


I'm kind of surprised Judi Dench agreed to do this.

Christiane Amanpour 's interview today with Dame Judi and Shrabani Basu touches on that.

But again there's not much more awareness of the points raised in TFAs... Interestingly, Basu mentions that Abdul Karim's descendents had completely bought in to the "rogue servant" narrative, and were embarrassed at what they presumed had been his role; his journals lay unread in a chest of belongings in Karachi.
posted by progosk at 8:06 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]


(Ah - turns out Basu herself picked Lee Hall's bid to turn her book into a screenplay - so I guess she has reasons to keep to herself on any controversy now...)
posted by progosk at 8:29 AM on October 10


No, I think we want movies where the frigging non-white people get to be the center of their own frigging stories.

not to get into an embarrassing argument as I'm sure you know where I was going with sarcasm but in the Southeast Asia context, they have an actually bigger film production infrastructure than California, and perhaps they do powerful historical stories with real depth about the culture and peoples but, well: Bollywood.
posted by sammyo at 9:55 AM on October 10 [4 favorites]


For a (somewhat) less romanced account of their story, here's the 2012 hour-long Channel 4 documentary Queen Victoria's Last Love (sans Basu, interestingly).
posted by progosk at 9:59 AM on October 10


not to get into an embarrassing argument as I'm sure you know where I was going with sarcasm but in the Southeast Asia context, they have an actually bigger film production infrastructure than California, and perhaps they do powerful historical stories with real depth about the culture and peoples but, well: Bollywood.

This conversation is about Hollywood specifically, however, and the complaint on the floor is that Hollywood is also similarly capable of making historical stories with real depth about culture and people - but only seems to want to do so if the historical figures in question are white. Any non-white characters in these "stories with real depth" are kicked off to the sidelines. Even if the historical incident that they are ostensiby writing about is a non-white story.

I'm not sure how the existance of Bollywood makes up for that, or is relevant to that issue - unless you're trying to argue a "separate yet equal" kind of situation, which would frankly be really weird if you were.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:50 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


they have an actually bigger film production infrastructure than California, and perhaps they do powerful historical stories with real depth about the culture and peoples but, well: Bollywood.

It's interesting that you mention Bollywood. My mum watches a lot of Indian soap-operas via satellite. There was a historical period soap from a few years ago called Jhansi Ki Rani, an Indian historical drama based on the life of Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi. She was a queen who fought for independence and nationalism in 1857.

What's interesting about this series, and the reason I mention it here is that occasionally the show has Indian actors performing the roles of British soldiers and the Empire via "white-face" makeup. There are a few white actors who play soldier parts as well but there are also some scenes where you can clearly see it is an Indian actor wearing powdered white make-up and a wig and acting as a British soldier.

I struggle with this and whether or not its acceptable for this kind of performance to happen. But I thought it was worth mentioning here.
posted by Fizz at 10:53 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


Given how Bollywood movies are made and financed-- see Suketu Mehta's Maximum City; in a nutshell: "shakily"-- that's not surprising. There's probably not enough white people in Mumbai to play extras.

On the movie: it feels like moviemakers should have gotten the memo that non-whites are people, but they just haven't. Karim's story sounds way more interesting to me than Victoria's.
posted by zompist at 12:31 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]


Karim's story sounds way more interesting to me than Victoria's.

Indeed, telling the story from HIS point of view would have been fascinating.
posted by Fizz at 12:42 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]


Oddly enough, Fizz, that's exactly what the film's producer (and spouse of screenwriter Lee Hall) thought they were doing - or at least it's the pitch they convinced Basu with:
When producer Beeban Kidron heard about Basu’s book on the radio, she couldn’t believe her luck. Cross Street Films, the production company she runs with husband Lee Hall (who wrote Billy Elliot), pitched for the rights and won. ‘We wanted to do it from the point of view of Abdul, the stranger looking at the strangeness of court. And to be funny and accessible,’ says Kidron.
posted by progosk at 1:00 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]


I'm glad we settled the issue of Ben Kingsley's ethnicity so we can hopefully agree that Attenborough's Gandhi was a great work. I think I've seen every Indian feature film in which Gandhi is featured for more than ten minutes (just checked the list ) and I still think that Kingsley was the best.

British soldiers and the Empire via "white-face" makeup...

and the problem is... what exactly? Indian producers make the same kinds of compromises over casting due to budgetary constraints (and laziness) as their counterparts all over the world. In my school we put a large Parsi kid in a khaki uniform and turned him into Dyer of Jallianwala Bagh. The whole thing was corny as heck but he nailed his one line about 'crushing the rascals'.

And now, a little memoriam for Tom Alter who passed away last month. He played Lord Mountbatten (Sardar in aforementioned list) and Robert Clive and a whole host of lesser roles as the colonial villain. This great burden of typecasting limited his range on tv and film. But on stage, his Urdu diction was good enough to play Ghalib(!) Here is a scene from Satyajit Ray's Shatranj ke Khiladi (The Chess Players) where he had a small part as an English officer gone native.
posted by tirutiru at 5:25 PM on October 10 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the problem with black-/brown-/yellow-face is the power dynamic. Members of a dominant culture are taking jobs away from marginalised people while portraying them in an inauthentic way that serves the narratives that justify their oppression.

This isn't an issue for Indians playing British people. Nor for American celebrities who go to Japan or China to do commercials and films or whatever other "reverse racism" example you can come up with.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:00 PM on October 10 [4 favorites]


I realize I'm a huge nerd and this is probably corny as hell, but I'm learning a lot in this fucking thread. I'm glad we're having this discussion.
posted by Fizz at 6:35 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]


Classified by whom, ?
posted by Ideefixe at 10:37 PM on October 10


Anybody know whether the book's okay, or does it suffer from the same problems?
posted by cheshyre at 5:12 AM on October 11


As per the author herself: "Everything is based on fact. My book has elaborate footnotes and sources."

(Shame the Quint writer didn't read this FPP before conducting that interview...)
posted by progosk at 8:17 AM on October 11 [2 favorites]


I watched Victoria & Abdul and found it to be a very entertaining historical bauble. Director Stephen Frears (The Grifters, Dangerous Liaisons, The Queen, Philomena) is a master of understated humor and subtle social commentary. FWIW, Abdul is accompanied from India by a second character, Mohammed, who has a more realistically negative view of Britain's colonial impact on India.
posted by fairmettle at 1:46 AM on November 2 [1 favorite]


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