Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Slumdog Colonization

So the hit movie Slumdog Millionaire won eight Oscars and has grossed over $200 million. Yet the youngest stars of the film have not seen enough of that cash to get them out of the real slums where they and their families continue live in India. According to the BBC, Rubina Ali, who played the youngest version of “Latika,” had her house (built out of bamboo and plastic sheets) bulldozed down by the Indian government.

To make matters worse, her father, Rafiq Qureshi, was allegedly beaten after he attempted to stop the government from demolishing their home. Perhaps not surprisingly, “Last week authorities demolished the home of Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, another Slumdog child actor .... police were accused of ‘smacking’ Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail with a bamboo stick before ordering him out.”

The authorities claim he and other families were squatting on land that was owned by the government.


Many claim they were not informed about the planned demolition and that help for new housing promised by local authorities and by the film's makers had not materialized.

Slumdog director Danny Boyle has strongly denied claims of exploitation.

The film makers have set up funds to pay for the young actors' education and they have been enrolled in school for the first time.

They also recently announced that they will donate $776,294 (£500,000) to a charity which will help children living in the slums of Mumbai.

CNN report indicates that Ali’s home may not have been one of the 18 that was demolished. Still, given the impoverished conditions where these children and their families live and the ongoing risk the families endure, is it asking too much to give the actors and their families a greater share of the profits in timely fashion?

The irony of the situation is that Slumdog Millionaire focuses so heavily on the ways that poverty in India harms communities. Yet here we have an apparent case of a major movie production company and its movers and shakers exploiting destitute families for extreme profit.

This is a contemporary form of colonization where through popular culture, western companies profit from the gaze that western audiences cast upon the most underprivileged sectors of developing countries and the plight that those communities suffer. Social stratification manifests in this colonial project by way of race, class, nationalism, and age.

India obviously had a good portion of its history enmeshed under British colonial rule. Presently, the colonial methods used to exploit developing countries are more stealthy and multi-faceted.

(Photo courtesy of the BBC).

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