Monday 8 November 2021

Is Bollywood scene in Eternals movie racist? Happy Deepavali!

What is racist?

That may be obvious to many but not to all.

How else do you explain the viral 14-second video posted by a gym of two middle-aged Chinese women doing a seated row with elastic bands while shaking their heads like broken bobblehead dolls and repeating “happy Deepavali” to laughter from an unseen audience?

Never mind the Eternals movie. The video should’ve been rated M18 for immature content.

But someone must have thought it was okay and not racist at all because it was posted on Instagram by F45 Serangoon Garden South to mark the Hindu festival last week.

After receiving “feedback that this video is racially insensitive”, the gym apologised: “We are very sorry for the mistakes and hope to seek your forgiveness.”

With the Internet being the Internet, at least one of the women has been supposedly identified and the company she works for has also been targeted by those demanding that the woman be sacked.

It’s like Amy Cheong all over again. Remember her?

The company responded that it was aware of the video, adding: “We are treating this matter very seriously and we are currently in the process of investigating the incident.”

But the video was not the only racially-charged Deepavali-related incident that went viral last week.

So did this tweet by a Twitter user named sham: “my siblings my niece and i were just playing with sparklers for Deepavali and someone from on top threw an egg at us.”

He also tweeted pictures of a family including a young girl playing with sparklers outdoors and pictures of a smashed egg at what looked like the foot of a Housing Board block.

The Twitter user did not outright call it a racist incident, but some took it as such.

As one person commented: “I’m sorry that some racist person had to show his/her downright ugliness when y’all were enjoying the sparklers.”

But I would like to report a possibly racist Deepavali-related incident that not enough people are talking about.

It’s in the Eternals movie, which opened in Singapore on Deepavali.

I know the movie received the M18 rating and is banned in a several Middle Eastern countries because of a scene with two gay men kissing. But what raises my hackles is a different scene.

Come on, Marvel, you have the first South Asian superhero Kingo played by Pakistani-American actor Kumail Nanjiani and what do you do?

You put him in a Bollywood dance number.

Stereotype much?

I guess I should be grateful that you didn’t make Gilgamesh played by Korean-American actor Don Lee sing K-pop and play Squid Game.

Or make Ajak played by Mexican-American actress Selma Hayek eat tacos and clean houses.

Or make Sersi played by Chinese-British actress Gemma Chan know gongfu and ride a giant flying Chinese dragon in the end – no, wait, that is another movie.

It is particularly jarring considering the movie is a woke wet dream with a hyper-diverse cast that also includes a deaf actress, two British guys who played brothers in Game Of Thrones and Angelina Jolie.

Plus the movie is directed by what Americans like to call a “woman of colour”, Oscar winner Chloe Zhao.

As Eternals has become the worst reviewed Marvel Cinematic Universe movie ever, some fans are calling its critics racist and misogynist.

So it almost does not matter that Kingo was originally Japanese in the comics. No one is accusing Marvel of brown-washing for making the character a South Asian just to have a Bollywood sequence.

All is forgiven, Tilda Swinton?

Yay, representation.

The movie may not be as outright racist as the F45 video, but both trade on the same old racial stereotypes.

Shaking my head.

But not like that.

- Publihsed in The New Paper, 8 November 2021