What I've felt 🪞 by this year
I have to say, it has been a great year for Asian representation—both East and South Asian representation. I know conversations about diversity in film are quickly cannibalized into boring (capitalist) rhetoric, but I’ve also been thinking a lot about how film (& TV) have always been some of the most vital reflections I’ve had to understand myself socially, which is why not being seen can be so brutal.
Recently, I wrote an essay for my friend Preetika Rajgariah’s solo show at Unit London entitled Between Frustration and Fulfilment, and through the process of writing it, I felt an intense emotion take hold. I’d been following Rajgariah’s work for a few years and had been a fan, but it was really this new work of re-purposing yoga mats into canvases, whilst depicting herself as the heroine — naked, queer, and bold — a positionality South Asian women (even within Bollywood) are so rarely given space to be, and her portrayal of that really moved me.
Sometimes, it’s not that we are not seen, it is that we are never seen, fully. In a global world, Asian women are seen as silent, therefore pliable, and amenable, compliant; and when we are not we are seen as that, so easily we become wretched whores worthy of destruction. South Asian women are at some of the highest risk of intimate partner violence, honor killings by husbands, brothers, and fathers are still present in our culture. These are realities of violence that many of us can’t escape, but when we tell our own stories, when we depict new destinies and futures for ourselves, something in the cultural psyche shifts. I remember watching What Will People Say by Iram Haq, the phenomenal true story of the director’s life and realizing art has the phenomenal power of ending cycles of harm within our families. When we can walk away from the etchings of our past, the brutal compositions that defined us, when we create new beginnings for ourselves through our own art-making, we can shift so much in our ancestral makeup.
I think we comprehend how significant we are through depictions that we see of people who look like us. I think back to the people I gravitated toward as a child. Like my first best friend Regina, and her older sister Sara, who were both non-white, like me. They were both weird and alt and punk and strange like me, with odd parents (their mother was an acupuncturist) like mine, and even though at, like, seven years old I didn’t know what I was entirely, I sought reflections of strangeness everywhere.
Eventually, I found myself enfolded in scenes of film.
Now I know, at this age, I felt relieved by cinema, because inside movies, people were emotional and dramatic, like my family. I learned what had happened to me or what I was surviving by watching families survive it, too. Movies like White Oleander, Ordinary People, and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown… even though they were all about white families and people, they were integral to my understanding of my mother, and through them, I knew I wasn’t alone.
Yet, something was always missing until I started to find filmmakers like me. Whether it was the work of Satyajit Ray, who my father introduced me to, or Wong Kar Wai and Mira Nair, I found these films in the foreign film sections at the library, or the Video Ezy and Blockbuster near our house… and I found myself in Monsoon Wedding and In The Mood For Love again and again and again.
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