After watching The Big Sick, I left the movie theatre with a smile on my face. Since the film was based on a real-life romance, I knew going into the movie that the two main leads would be together in the end–Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily Gordon, wrote the screenplay after all.
For those who haven’t heard of The Big Sick, here’s its premise. Kumail Nanjiani, a Pakistani-American man dates a white woman, Emily Gordon, after he meets her at his comedy show. Kumail comes from a traditional Pakistani and Muslim family who want to arrange his marriage to a Pakistani woman. The film revolves around the trials of interracial dating and overcoming their personal obstacles of their relationship.
Despite the witty language and overall heart the film brought out of its characters, I couldn’t help but think about what it meant to see a brown man romance a white woman on the big screen. I’m not the only one thinking about this. Aditi Natasha Kini critiques the movie and talks about the idealization of white women in society in an essay for Jezebel.
From Aziz Ansari’s Master of None to John Cho’s Selfie, Asian men receive this big hurrah when they are paired with white women. While the stereotype of “undesirable” Asian men is everywhere in mainstream media, having a South Asian actor play a romantic male lead isn’t enough for me to look past at another growing trend–the depiction of South Asian men rejecting South Asian women.
This trend isn’t anything new. Master of None and Meet the Patels continue the trend as well. It’s almost as though in order to have a brown voice in media, it needs to have whiteness as a foundation to give it credibility. Because a question continues to tug at me. Would this story have been told if it were focused on interracial dating between two people of color?
In The Big Sick, Kumail rejects brown women to get together with white women instead. And I understand that the movie is about two people falling in love despite overcoming challenges. I know that this particular story is about a real-life romance of two people. But when I see the parade of Pakistani women his mom introduces him to, I wonder why they are depicted as conventional and not good enough for a modern Pakistani man.
Quick disclaimer, I’m going to point out that I liked the film as a whole. It did a great job incorporating elements of things like family expectations, portraying a Muslim family, and what it is like to be up against tradition. But I can’t love the film completely because it puts down South Asian women while putting white women on a pedestal. I want Hollywood to see what they are promoting with these stories, instead of patting themselves on the back for sprinkling more people of color into films.