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Mississippi Masala

$9.05


MISSISSIPPI MASALA, Denzel Washington, Sarita Choudhury, 1991

MISSISSIPPI MASALA would be better if Mina and Demetrius had waited until marriage to consummate their "love." Lying and deception, just doesn't work. However, the film does remind us that love conquers adversity and calls on families to stick together. Also, the performances are believable, and the rich cinematography is superb.

Ballal locates Nair within the academic/physical and psychic West and therefore charges her work with reinscribing colonial practices of seeing the west as "progressive/modern" and the non-West as "backward/traditional." Ballal argues this in specific regard to the representation of Mina, who is at the mercy of her "traditional Indian family/patriarchy" that wants to arrange a marriage. This view of limited freedom allows the United States/West as the location at which Mina can escape and really be "free", "This representation of Third World women is parallel to strategies employed by colonial discourse... In Mississippi Masala, the body of the young, female hero is used to cross racial boundaries within a discourse of eroticization. Mina is decked in the flaming oranges, reds and golds of titillating, "ethnic" costume and comportment...The film thus serves the exigencies of the Euro-American marketplace where the exotic hero becomes the object of a Western gaze." (4), I think that this is an extremely important aspect of the film that is easily lost to white audiences. Mina is very sexualized in this film, and I agree with Ballal that it is within the discourse of sexuality that she can move fluidly through differently racialized spaces. This is a subtlety that Anderson does not pick up on in her critique. We see this in the first scene of Mina in Greenwood, when she flips up her hair in the grocery store. It is also true in the club scene, where it is through sensual movement that Mina is welcomed and desired in the Black space. Seshagiri sees the use of bright colors against brown skin as a celebration of brown skin and of mixed love(186-187). I think that it is important to see that both celebration and exotification can be happening simultaneously in this film. This is a consequence of Nair's positionality, as Ballal points out, and also of the dominant white gaze of mainstream America., Colonial representations of the "native" male body as effeminized can also be seen in Mississippi Masala through the character of Anil and Ponte who are impotant/sexually deprived/disfunctional (5), What I think is missing from Ballal's critique is an examination of the exoticization / sexualization of Demetrius and the Black male body in relation to Mina/ Indian women in the film. The motel scene, when Anil bursts in is clearly playing on Black penis envy, a phenomenon that can also be traced to colonial formations of race and sex and to the class conflicts constructed between Indian and Black communities in both Greenwood and Uganda. See Seshagiri for more on this (189)

MISSISSIPPI MASALA, Sarita Choudhury, Denzel Washington, 1991

Sarita Choudhury aka Clara in Mississipi Masala

According to “masala” means a mixture of spices. Mina is Indian who lives mostly by American culture since she spent most of her time in America. Jay, her father, is Indian as well, but identifies himself as Ugandan; and lastly, Demetrius, her lover, is a Black man who has obviously adopted the American culture. So here are these 3 people intertwined with each others identities creating the title Mississippi Masala.

"I argue that the inescapable legacy of empire produces a disjuncture between the film's forward-looking politics and its ambivalent ending: Mississippi Masala illuminates but fails to transcend the geographical and historical boundaries of British Colonialism and American slavery. Ultimately, the very hybridity that Mira Nair celebrates through vibrant spectacle finds itself bereft of a "place" on empire's geographical and political map." 183