Maughan Hub: Improvise, Adapt, Overcome – When Writing BAME Characters is Just Too Hard

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Maughan Hub is a series of articles written by KCL’s Comedy Society members, published on Wednesdays. We hope they entertain you wherever you are!

It’s no secret that people of colour are vastly underrepresented in Western media. Biases against BAME actors aside, a wide majority of stories are written surrounding white characters. Stories just aren’t written about people like us. However, this doesn’t mean our narratives never make it to the big screen.

As an Indian-American growing up with depleted representation, innovative film and culture critic “Anootpam” (also a dedicated Pingu fan) has engaged in a time-honoured tradition. Putting his legal analysis skills to use, he has unearthed parallel worlds of cultural representation in classic movies.

The Hobbit, for example, despite its British inspiration, is a profoundly South Asian story. The opening chapter shows this perfectly. A huge throng of (shorter, hairier) people show up to Bilbo’s house, entirely unexpectedly. They all instantly demand copious amounts of food and drink. Then, they put immense pressure on him to forgo his comfortable, lazy lifestyle and uproot his life, and he has to go. Of course he does. An elder told him to. The story always belonged to us.

This inspired him to re-imagine The Wolf of Wall Street with telemarketers. “Hello, sir. This is Christopher calling from [checks cards] Evanston, Illinois,” his updated script suggests. “Would you like to get rich, my friend?” He figured that far less acting coaching would be needed, as this is simply standard telemarketing practice. “Literally just use the guy who keeps calling my phone asking me about my insurance coverage. Don’t even need to tell him we’re acting, I’ll just put him on speaker.” There are concerns over whether this version will be able to employ the advertisement of big-name actors; in line with the strict South Asian work ethic he was raised on, Anootpam agrees that Margot Robbie would be walked out after thirty seconds of screen time for being a distraction from the task at hand.

Though we see ourselves in these stereotypes, not all of these depictions are accurate or politically correct. Regarding the 2003 classic Freaky Friday, he notes that the Chinese representation is deeply OTT; the two minorities in that movie are burdened with heavy Chinese accents and exist purely to cast fortune cookie magic. To balance this out, he configures a cultural swap: Lindsay Liu-Han and her mother visit an American-parody style “Ribs R Us” and their waiter makes them switch bodies with a tarot card that has a moon and a sun on it.

But is this strategy universally applicable? Unfortunately not. Anootpam has reservations about the beloved musical movie Mamma Mia! Despite its Bollywood-style theatrics, the families would be immensely critical of the promiscuous premise alone. “Someone’s grandmother would have a heart attack and it would be a blame game from there,” he explains.

In a world where finding people who look like us on the big screen is damn near impossible, hope is not lost. We find representation betwixt the layers of classic stories, for it is all that we can do. But the world is changing, and mark our words – when the tarot cards are finally played right, Bilbo’s biryani will be renowned across the Shire.

Comedy Society Staff

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