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Sexist Slumdog Millionaire: Tell Celador Films They Botched It February 11, 2009

Posted by Onely in As If!, film review, Pop Culture: Scourge of the Onelys.
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(Greg Hernandez, Wikicommons)

Did anyone on the Oscar committee, or anyone voting for the Oscars, actually read the book on which the movie Slum Dog Millionaire was based? I sincerely hope not. Because if they did read the book, and they are still generating Oscar buzz after having read it, then gratuitous sexism is more frighteningly ensconced in our pop culture than I realized.

In the movie, Jamal’s love interest Latika is shuffled around at the behest of first one evil man, and then another, battered and sexually assaulted and used for her looks. Finally, her ultimate rescue is facilitated first by Jamal’s brother Salim, and then by Jamal.

But in the excellent book, Q&A by Vikas Swarup, although Latika is abused by the men in her life and suffers all sorts of injustices, in the end–guess what? She shows up at the end of the movie as a high-powered lawyer who swoops in and saves Jamal when the game show producers are beating him and accusing him of cheating.

Was that ending not exciting enough for the SDM producers? Apparently not. Apparently the more exciting ending was for Latika to wander bereft around a train station until Jamal finds her. The screenwriters didn’t even give her a chance to save Jamal when she’s on the phone with him in front of millions of people as he tries to answer the crucial last question: who is the third musketeer? Latika says she doesn’t know. This wasn’t in the book. Because it wasn’t in the book anyway, why not just have her know the answer, and give her a little bit of empowerment? Instead, through the whole movie, she’s not much more than a prop to show the bad guys’ dastardlyness and the good guy’s sensitivity, capability, and general awesomeness. Meanwhile, Latika is valued only for her appearance.

The creators of Slum Dog Millionaire, the movie, changed a story of a woman who triumphed over all odds, to a story of a woman who, well, doesn’t actively do much of anything except be pretty for good men and bad men. And they are being rewarded for this with four Golden Globe awards and talk of Oscars!

Apparently even Q&A’s author sanctioned the changes. Vikas, how could you? Even worse, Loveleen Tandan, how could you? As female co-director, surely you could have influenced the film along a less sexist path?

As popular as this movie is, it has raised controversies. People have protested the title, deeming it offensive (which I don’t think it is, but what do I know, I’m not from a slum). People are discussing the accuracy of its images of India. And people are even talking about how Latika is very close to a mere sex/beauty object. But I’m not seeing anyone talking about the difference between Book Latika and Movie Latika, and what it means when the entertainment industry is allowed to profit from such a change. So Onely is talking about it, even though it’s more of a feminism issue than the singlehood issues we usually tackle.

Copious Readers, I’m discovering it’s hard to get contact information for even the agents and managers of highfalutin’ sexist screenwriters (Simon Beaufoy) and directors (Danny Boyle). Apparently they know how to hide from nastygrams. Not so much for Celador Films, SDM’s production company, which can be reached at 39 Long Acre, London WC2E 9LG (thank you wikipedia).

Copious Readers, let’s tell them that their film “downgrade” of Latika’s character is not acceptable. (I’m sure they’ll pay lots of attention.)


P.S. Otherwise, I quite enjoyed the movie.


1. Nancy Green - February 14, 2009

thanks for bringing that up. i didn’t read the novel, but the film bothered me. i think the directors raised the bar of graphic violence to children, and that is not a good thing. i reviewed it here-
i’d be interested in your comments.

2. Liesl - February 16, 2009

I never read the book so I did not know this!!! If this is the case I could not agree with you more! Appalling! Thank you so much for sharing your insight.I’m looking at the movie in a very different light.

I don’t agree with Nancy Green up there and I could not be more sensitive about violence done to children. I had to hide my face in my hands! But it’s important that we look at the ugliest things in life for the sake of awareness and, ultimately, prevention. These kinds of violent acts DO happen to children and we shouldn’t gloss them over and forget.

onely - February 18, 2009

Liesl, thanks; it was really bothering me that they strayed so far from a key aspect of the book–if it had only been a question of plot, ok fine, but it wasn’t. They probably felt safe in knowing that most moviegoers won’t have read the original story. I only happened to have read it myself by coincidence. –CC

3. drsubrotoroy - February 23, 2009
onely - February 23, 2009

You were correct! It *was* of interest! = ) Copious Readers, you all need to check out Drsubrotoroy’s perspective on SDM, which goes beyond my focus on the straight sexism. –CC

4. trauma queen - May 4, 2009

wow! I did not know this..I am ashamed! Really..since my countrymen got soooo excited about the Indianness of it all.

How could Vikas Swarup permit this..really..damn sad…

5. How to Pop the Progressive Bubble? « Onely: Single and Happy - October 29, 2009

[…] Cultural Revolutionish but oh well) politicians, companies, advertisers, and moviemakers (Ahem, Slum Dog) who present offensive […]

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