The Importance of Diasporic Cinema in a Culturally Diverse World: ‘Slumdog Millionaire’

Diasporic media allows for a breaking down of the preconceived perceptions of cultural boundaries, through its ability to ‘encapsulate an emerging form of cinema that crosses cultural borders at the stage of conceptualisation and production’ (Khorana, 2013).

In a continually globalised and inter-culturally connected world, it is important that cinema crosses over cultural boundaries. As cross-cultural cinema is created by ‘members of demographic groups and often their descendants who have experienced collective, sometimes forced, migration from their lands of origin to survive in face of ethno-racial, political or religious discrimination or displacement due to war or other economic necessity’ (Curry, 2016), it is evident the cinematic themes and experience express various cultural values and styles. Ultimately, cross-cultural cinema will demonstrate a ‘hybrid cinematic grammar at the textual level’ (Khorana, 2013) that the audience isn’t completely able to have a cultural reference point for, which in turn, encourages a break-down and re-signifying of generic conventions (Stephens Duncan, 2011).

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Movie Poster recreated for UK release after Golden Globe success (Khorana, 2010)

An example of this is the 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire. The film sees an unusual relationship between Eastern and Western audiences, where ‘Eastern audiences (consumers of the Bollywood tradition) come prepared to value and accept aspects of the film that are disdained by Western audiences (consumers of the Hollywood tradition) and vice-versa’ (Stephens Duncan, 2011). The film is a strong example of cross-cultural cinema through the Indian setting, basis on the novel ‘Q&A’ by Indian author Vikram Swarup, directed by an English filmmaker Danny Boyle and co-directed by Indian Filmmaker Loveleen Tandan, produced by Western production studio Warner Bros and financed and marketed greatly in Europe and throughout the globe (Stephens Duncan, 2011).

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First poster for the film (Khorana, 2010)

By ‘broadening their audience demographic in the west, as well as reaching out to mainstream viewers in the home country’ (Khorana, 2010), the film demonstrates that the cross-cultural cinema can appeal to two different cultures who are adapted to somewhat different cinematic styles. The film also demonstrates the way that the Eastern and Western audiences receive the film can be vastly different, as Rebecca Stephens Duncan explains that the film was engaged ‘as exotic or picturesque for Western viewers, [and] provoked a much more politically and culturally engaged range of responses from India and its diasporic populations’ (Stephens Duncan, 2011). The Indian response varied, with a strong view that the film had exposed ‘India’s poverty to the world via a Hollywood-style film’ in a demeaning way, through unobtainable ‘polished’ English language and the classic Hollywood ‘rags to riches’ story that doesn’t depict the reality for Indian slums (Stephens Duncan, 2011).

Slumdog Millionaire is just one, very successful (if not the most successful) example of how cross-cultural film can disintegrate boundaries between cultures, exposing a new ‘confidence of minority ethnic individuals and communities’ (Cottle, 2000). However, if cultures are not depicted accurately or the media itself lacks authenticity (as argued by some critics of Slumdog Millionaire), it can damage progress of cultural competency and understanding that diasporic cinema aims to achieve.


References:

Khorana, S. (2010). ‘Crossover audiences in the aftermath of Slumdog Millionaire’, in E. Morrell & M. Barr (Eds.), Crises and Opportunities: Past, Present and Future. Proceedings of the 18th Biennial Conference of the ASAA, 5 – 8 July 2010, held at the University of Adelaide, Australia (pp. 1-10). Canberra, ACT: Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA); The University of Adelaide. Available here.

Curry, R. (2016) ‘Transnational and Diasporic Cinema’. Available here.

Khorana, S. (2013). ‘Crossover cinema: a conceptual and genealogical overview’. In S. Khorana (Eds.), Crossover Cinema: CrossCultural Film from Production to Reception (pp. 3-13). New York: Routledge. Available here.

Stephens Duncan, R. (2011). ‘Reading Slumdog Millonaire across cultures’. Journal of Commonwealth Literature. Vol 46(2): 311–326. Available here.

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