Brie Larson’s new movie Basmati Blues takes place in India. Brie plays a scientist who creates genetically modified rice that is to be marketed and sold in India to rural farmers. However, when she discovers that it is actually harmful and not helpful, she works with them to put an end to a problem she tried to sell them. Sprinkle in a love story, a few musical numbers, a heavy-handed serving of outdated stereotypes and voila, we have ourselves a perfectly problematic movie.
If Brie Larson made Basmati Blues to join the rare club of actors who have won an Oscar and a Razzie for Best and Worst actor then she took on the perfect project, and that’s all the justification I can think of.
Let’s start with the title, Basmati Blues. I can only assume they chose it solely based on the alliteration because it means nothing beyond what we know; Basmati is rice and having the blues is being sad so Basmati Blues must be being sad because of rice. It’s catchy nonsense.
Here’s a list of everything wrong with the trailer:
- All of India does not eat rice and all of the food is not spicy.
- All of the humour derives from the funny foreigner trope.
- Cultural/Professional clashes between Brie’s character and brown folk.
- White savior trope – ‘One woman will fight for justice’
- The dialogue is canned and cliché because of all of the above.
I was actually a little shocked to see a film like this being released in 2017, more so that the lead was Oscar winner Brie Larson. How could someone who is seemingly so vocal and progressive in regards to diversity on-screen sign up for such a tone-deaf narrative?
After a bit of research, I learned this movie was filmed back in 2013 and shelved for whatever reason. That’s a little more understandable, she took the project back when she was still largely unknown, before her first major roles in 21 Jump Street and Short Term 12. If I was giving her the benefit of the doubt, she took it to pay the bills and not because it was a story worth telling.
With it now being planned for release in 2017, the stereotypes this movie perpetuates are damaging in 2017, 2013 and it’s tacky even for the 80s. It includes everything from India is an exotic journey with weird culture and customs to the food is too spicy.
Brie Larson’s character is here to save all the foolish brown folk who may have fell for her lab rice idea because the corporation that talks about Indians as 1.1 billion customers doesn’t actually care about the people, just the profits. We know this corporation is evil because it’s led by Donald Sutherland or President Snow from The Hunger Games. Everything about this movie is very in-your-face. I’d say it was exceptional satire but the backlash from the trailer prompted the director, Dan Baron, to release a statement, here’s what he said:
“We deeply regret any offense caused by the Basmati Blues trailer. We have heard a number of voices that have understandably reacted to a trailer that is not representative of the film as a whole. Unfortunately, the international trailer has given the wrong impression of the film’s message and heart. This movie is not about an American going abroad to solve India’s problems. At its heart, this film is about two people who reach across cultures, fight against corporate greed, and find love. Basmati Blues is an ensemble musical romantic comedy. The film explores our responsibility for our actions and for each other, and attempts to do it in a disarming way, using music, comedy and romance. Basmati Blues is a love letter to multiple eras of Bollywood cinema, musicals, and classic Hollywood romantic comedies. We are confident that the film, when seen in its entirety, will bear out our appreciation and respect for India and its people.”
The trailer is absolutely cut like a messy mash-up of awful stereotypes so for the director to feign shock at how it’s received is a little puzzling to me. Moreover, this is a movie written by four white men and directed by one of them. Who informed them of the cultural nuances of a country as rich as India? There is no credit to any brown folk in the creative department and there is no indication that it’s a ‘love letter’ to Bollywood cinema. A musical number with badly choreographed dancing wearing a sari does not make it so.
Maybe the director is right and the complete movie won’t be as tone deaf as the trailer purports it to be, but if that same director couldn’t see the issues with releasing the trailer that he did, maybe it actually is that bad.
All things considered, if I was still giving them the benefit of the doubt, as people of colour are so often required to do so, and those involved truly made it with good intentions, it’s still perpetuating awful stereotypes and that is true whether your intentions are good or bad. Do better, Hollywood.
Here’s the trailer:
Source: The Playlist