Year of release: 1991
Directed by: Mira Nair
United States, United Kingdom
The film centres on an Indian family whose migratory trajectory takes them from Uganda – from where they are expelled under General Idi Amin’s campaign to reclaim Africa for black Africans in 1972 -- via Great Britain to America, where they settle in a small town in Mississippi. Through the theme of inter-racial romance between Mina, the only daughter of Jay and Kinnu Loha, and the African American Demetrius, the film explores the race relations between the South Asian and the Black diaspora in the US.
Mina’s parents would like her to marry within the South Asian diasporic community – but Mina is passionately in love with Demetrius, an ambitious and attractive self-made man, and her prospects of a good match with an Indian man are poor. Mina is a ‘darkie’ and her dark complexion is perceived as a disadvantage on the marriage market, as one of Kinnu’s friends (a cameo performance of Mira Nair) remarks: ‘You can be fair and have no money or you can be dark and have money, but you can’t be dark and have no money and expect to get Harry Patel’. Demetrius’s family and community, by contrast, welcome Mina and show no signs of racial prejudice. However, the family’s ostensible tolerance may actually reflect the internalization of racial hierarchies based on lighter and darker shades of brown skin: amongst the black community the dark-skinned Indian Mina is still fair. Yet interestingly, the film offers another explanation for her easy integration into the African American community: Mina describes herself as a ‘masala’, a mixture, a ‘bunch of hot spices’, and conceives of herself as the embodiment of hybridity, simultaneously African, Indian and American. The film gives a number of clues that she is half-African not just by virtue of being born in Uganda but also in terms of bloodline and descent. Unable to overcome racial prejudice within the Asian family and community, Mina and Demetrius run away and their new life together begins at a petrol station on the open road, an apt metaphor for the diasporic condition of being at home nowhere.