What is the white saviour genre?
It’s a genre which drives the notion that a white man/woman is necessary to save other races, to fight injustice done on them, put some sense in their head, make them ‘’civilized”, improve their life and save them because they are too naive to do any of these.
Nine times out of ten, the saved are black people. Remaining are various tribes like native Americans and Indians, Chinese and Japanese.
While some of the films that are put in this genre are really milestones of cinema, e.g. Lawrence of Arabia, To Kill a Mockingbird, Dances with Wolves, but most of them are nothing but poor promoters of racial stereotypes, which state that the group which the film revolves around is a bunch of naive, brainless dunces killing and discriminating against each other until an idealistic white man or woman who’s a teacher, mentor, lawyer, military hero, aspiring writer or any sort of a higher human being with world changing power steps in and :-
1.) Makes them mend their ways.
2.) Saves them from the dangers brought by his/her own people
3.) Becomes one of them and adapts their culture.
In some cases, these films lie blatantly. The most glaring example is the movie Blind Side, an autobiography of NFL player Michael Oher, who was adopted by the Tuohey family as a teenager. The film shows that Leanne Tuohy (played by Sandra Bullock) adopts a homeless (black) Michael and inspires him to become an American football player by recognizing his talent. In reality, Michael Oher was already a prodigy when Tuohey family adopted him. What added insult to injury was that Sandra Bullock won the Oscar for the best actress.
Another example is “The Hurricane”, which is the biopic of Reuben Carter, a middleweight boxer who spent twenty years in prison for a fake homicide charge, until he was ‘rescued’ by a young black pen friend and three young white people from Canada , who helped his case by discovering some key evidences. In reality, the three Canadians are fictional characters. The film completely looks over the fact that Reuben Carter was arrested for violent crimes right from the age of 14, including brutal muggings. There was enough evidence to convict him twice for the murders, he failed the lie detector test, refused to retake it, and the judge threw out the conviction because the prosecution did not present key evidence. They finally dropped it because there was nothing left after 22 years. Clearly, a case of turning a villain into a sympathetic figure.
The worst film till now for white saviour concept with respect to India has to be “Indiana Jones and the Temple of doom” where Indians food is shown as fried scarab beetles, leeches eaten live, eyeball soup and frozen monkey brains for desert.
And Kali is shown as a devil goddess and her worshippers are a death cult, who extract hearts similar to the Aztec and Mayan priests: –
The film was so horrible that the Indian govt banned it from being shot in India and it had to be shot in Sri Lanka. What a fall for Steven Spielberg and Amrish Puri.
Another recent example is of course Slumdog Millionaire, where absolutely no Indian character in the film is shown as even half decent. And the white man is shown as a saint who rewards Indian urchins with money even after they have taken off the tires of his Mercedes. Sniff sniff.
The latest entrant into this white saviour comedy is the musical ‘Basmati Blues’.
Watch the trailer of ‘Basmati Blues’:
Didn’t expect this from Brie Larsson, who’s Oscar winning role in Room (2015) is certainly a must watch. ‘Basmati Blues’ was largely made in 2013 when she was not a star, but now has a limited release.
So, in ‘Basmati Blues’, Larrson’s character is a scientist named Linda, who created genetically modified rice with her father (such a new invention isn’t it.) Her Boss Gurgon played by Donald Sutherland (what’s with good actors taking stupid roles) tells her to go to India because its “a country of five hundred million farmers, one billion rice eaters and one billion customers for us”. (Golly, what a new thing to discover, that Indians eat rice and that they all are naive enough to be dumped with a GM variant of any food grain.) Promptly she’s handpicked by him because she’s the sweet face who will convince the Indian farmers to buy the GM rice.
Now who’s going to explain to them that Monsanto is trying to enter the Indian market with its GM corn and BT cotton but has been fought off by the farmers who don’t need post graduate degree to see it for the curse that it is.
She’s told that Bilari is where she has to go because it is the birthplace of Basmati. Bilari is in Uttar Pradesh, but in this film, its shown in Kerala. And to go to Kerala, she must land in Mumbai. Sorry sweetheart, but every major city in India has an airport. Basmati rice is mainly grown in north India, and is just one of the thousands of breeds of rice grown in the country.
She travels to the village on a train in sleeper class (because that’s how all train bogies look in India), and meets the hero, who hangs upside down like a monkey, as he is travelling on the roof of the train (like all Indians do, isn’t it). We later learn that Rajit – the hero of ‘Basmati Blues’ has been forced to return to his village after dropping out of his agricultural science degree as he can’t pay the fees (so Bollywoodisque). His parents, and all villagers speak English in the much-lampooned Indian accent and are able to understand her well (and those who do not speak English, speak Hindi, even when the signs in the background are in Malayalam). To cut a long story short, she falls for the humble hero, sings some songs with him, wins over the Indians with her sweet demeanour, but then saves them in the end by making them see that they are being sold sterile rice seeds and stops the train by chasing it on a horseback and then promptly detaching the bogies from the engine by a single whack of a hammer. Basmati Blues ends with her marrying our hero, and Bollywood dancing.
And also, in ‘Basmati Blues’ are people named Patel, Kapoor (in Kerala), spicy food, impromptu breaking into songs, and a kathak dance lesson.
Thankfully due to social media, unlike the days of Indiana Jones and the temple of doom, we have had people trash ‘Basmati Blues’almost immediately.
Every now and then this totally ridiculous and condescending genre raises its ugly head and it really surprising that who still invests in these kinds of films. They are nothing but an extension of colonialism and white man’s burden.
What will it take the west to understand that they need to stop showing all African nations=poverty+civil war, Brazil=Favelas, Mexico= Drug cartels and India= slums+taj mahal+bollywood dancing. It is no longer amusing, but cringeworthy to the core.
PS: I watched the entire film
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