Hey Picklers, I’m back in town. I hesitated posting up anything about the kerfuffle surrounding the shooting of Monica Ali’s Brick Lane until now, as I wanted to offer a slightly different slant to what has been reported in the media so far.
Sunny has already thoroughly addressed the issue over at AiM and I advise you to have a read if this story is new to you. I have just watched an entirely Asian panel on the BBC News (including the newsreader, but this is the BBC – they’re ALL Asian) discuss the book and the plans to begin filming.
Obviously any threats of violence or actual violence are inexcusable – but do the protestors have a valid reason to be unhappy? It seems like a familiar theme here PP, an Asian author is attacked for their ‘unrealistic’ portrayal of community X because they are not from community X. True to form, Bangladeshi residents in and around Brick Lane are unhappy with how they are depicted in a work of fiction. Monica Ali is mixed race, middle class and not from Brick Lane – hence this book must be rubbish.
Yet in this regard, it does not seem to be as religiously motivated as the wild protests against Behzti. Perhaps the community genuinely feel as though they have been slurred. Unfortunately, I must confess I have not read the book. This is overwhelmingly because I was told by all and sundry that it was complete toss. Perhaps these Bangladeshi traders are actually defenders of good filmmaking and don’t want a bad film to be made..?
Irrespective, just as I catch myself siding with those protesting, I research what exactly Ali suggested in her book. That aspects of the community are backward, sexist and fundamentalist. I think it would be only a fool to suggest that the entire Tower Hamlets Bangladeshi community is free of all three of these traits. Many of us here have lived/worked in the East End and I know Brick Lane intimately. I love it, it’s one of my favourite parts of London. But I know all too well of the seedier side of life there and also the backwards attitudes which find homes in all South Asian communities in Britain.
Ali’s book may suggest that these negative characteristics are more prevalent than they are. For the decent folk of Brick Lane that is a shame, but nothing more. They are conscious that the wider British community do not know them well and they don’t want any negative publicity, this is surely understandable. But they are confusing fiction with fact. Monica Ali is under no obligation to depict reality – that pressure is normally applied by the buying public. But as the book was a best-seller, why would she admit an error to her ways?
Ultimately, the onus falls to those who complain about how their community is depicted. Whilst it is easier said than done, the only way to get what you want on screen is to put it there. On a somewhat-related note, something I frequently feel annoyed about is how London is portrayed on screen. I’ll try to update this post with some examples (I’m heading out now) but few or no films have captured the way I and many of my contemporaries see London. I haven’t seen Woody Allen’s latest two London flicks, but I would be interested to as he has a knack of making New York look like the coolest city around. Nevertheless, neither Matchpoint nor Scoop are about my London. If Mr Allen, or any other director, decides to make a film about how Londoner is full of mean-spirited, grumpy, thieving bastards, foul weather and rubbish food, would I make my protest heard? Of course. Would I threaten to blockade the intended sets – or worse? Never. Freedom of speech is paramount.
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Filed in: Culture,Moral police