Across North American TV and film, a prevailing theme proves everyone has the right to love who they want, regardless of race. But when you take a closer look at these instances as they apply to interracial relationships, a troubling pattern emerges.
In many of these movies and TV shows, it’s seen as perfectly acceptable for people of different races to be together—as long as one of them is white.
Beyond lighthearted entertainment (like I Love Lucy in its pre-Loving-v.-Virginia defiance) even media focused on the complexities of interracial relationships often isn’t brave enough to have a person of colour fall in love with someone else who isn’t white.
West Side Story (1961) centres on a Latina woman falling in love with a white man (never mind that the Latina woman is portrayed by a Russian actress). Jungle Fever (1991), directed by a Black man, depicts a Black man falling in love with a white woman.
It’s unsurprising when white filmmakers explore interracial relationships in this way. In a lot of cases, it probably allows them to explore a perspective they’re better equipped to understand, which in turn makes for more realistic content.
The real mystery is why racialized filmmakers and content creators—particularly men—follow the same practice. So often, they create heroes that push aside Black or brown women to prove they can score a white blonde.
I can only effectively explore the impact of their choices from the perspective of a South Asian woman. I’m not part of a group well-represented in the media. Naturally, my heart jumped when I heard Aziz Ansari was getting his own Netflix show, Master of None. I was ready to see people like me take charge of the narratives in which they exist.
I wasn’t disappointed. The show centres around a diverse cast and explores a wide array of sensitive topics while remaining humorous and uplifting. There was only one downside.
Though I was used to being pushed aside by straight brown men, it hurt when Aziz’s character fell in love with a white woman on the show. This is especially true of a character who represents the bubbly manic pixie dream girl so many Desi boys fantasize about.
This hurt only made me feel guilty. I felt I should have been supporting the people who looked like me, including Ansari and his show.
But then I watched The Big Sick, and I realized brown men in films and TV are not on my side.
The Big Sick was championed as a groundbreaking depiction of interracial relationships. To be fair, it’s one of the first Hollywood films to depict such a relationship involving a South Asian American.
But this fact seems to incorrectly excuse its depiction of brown women. In The Big Sick, the central love story comes at the expense of our dignity.
The protagonist, Kumail, starts off the film describing the parade of Pakistani women his parents constantly urge him to consider marrying. Kumail is a low-income comedian who’s struggling with his religious beliefs, yet his worst problem seems to be that he can’t stand brown women. They are doctors, lawyers, and future presidents—and somehow all the same brand of annoying.
This all culminates in his attraction to white graduate student Emily, who is outspoken, supportive of his dreams, and sexually liberated. These are traits the film implies he can only find in white women.
Kumail ultimately ends up with Emily, his true love, and lives happily ever after. Even Kumail’s whiny roommates, who aren’t nearly interesting enough to deserve their fictional careers in comedy, get to follow their dreams.
That happy ending leaves brown women everywhere staring blankly at their screens, feeling like romantic redemption and happiness will come for everyone but them.
If The Big Sick and Master of None were anomalies in their treatment of brown women then we might have a chance. But consider Raj in The Big Bang Theory, Tom from Parks and Recreation, and Jack in Yesterday, along with the many other examples of men of colour who exclusively fall in love with white women onscreen, even when they’re given the chance to tell their own stories.
Every time another example is added to the list, women of colour are reminded of their place in this world, created or reinforced by internalized racism in the process.
In an industry controlled by white men who I know would cast me aside as a South Asian woman, it’s disappointing that brown men insist on upholding the status quo.
Netflix, Relationships, romance
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