Slumdog Millionaire Protests

The current Room for Debate article on the New York Times website is a set of three opinions concerning the recent protests in India over the popularity and offensive nature (at least in some eyes) of the Oscar-nominated film, Slumdog Millionaire.

Responding to the calls of some that the film is essentially Western “poverty porn” Sadia Shepard writes that:

In the film, the director Danny Boyle uses a grab bag of recognizable Indian symbols — the Taj Mahal, cricket, Amitabh Bachchan — with which to make his film accessible and entertaining to Westerners. The Dharavi slum as depicted in the film, indeed the very notion of poverty itself, is merely one of these tropes. Choosing to represent squalor as colorful scenery may be in questionable taste, but it’s hardly pornography.

To me this seems to be a very important point to make about the film and it’s potential to be offensive. The reality is that Danny Boyle used the aspects of the slums simply as one more theme in his movie to convey the story. If you have seen the movie then it is pretty apparent that he was not intending to be offensive or derogatory toward the real inhabitants of the slums.

There is an important distinction between what is offensive and what is not that somehow got lost in these protests over the film. A film that was not intentionally offensive and was by no means derogatory to slum residents somehow got re-appropriated as a political catalyst. A more fitting use of political energy for those who are protesting would have been to take the real exploitation that is occurring in the slums and to have used that to provoke protests and political action. Instead, people have simply resorted to using fictional films as a reason to feel compassionate about social issues. It’s time that the real conditions sparked protests and fictional films simply remained as what they are: fictional entertainment.