Your Name Name of of Professor Interracial relationships in Mississippi Masala Mira Nair’s 1991 Mississippi Masala has for its central subject the relationship of an African American man and an Indian American woman and the filial opposition that they face to the same…
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The backdrop is significantly the Mississippi countryside with a long history of slavery and institutionalized racism, the lingering effects of which continue to inform the film’s thematic concerns. The forced immigration of Mina’s family from Uganda is a deliberate backdrop to the romance between Mina and Demetrius. The intolerance that the Indian family faces in the dictatorial regime of Idi Amin quite ironically does not render them (albeit Mina) more egalitarian in their views on race. Despite their close personal ties with the nation of Uganda and their relationship with Okelo, a man who ensures their safe departure amidst much racial profiling and persecution at severe personal risk, their reluctance to accept their daughter’s relationship with an African American man shows the way in which racial intolerance can dwell in vicious cycles. In a somewhat similar episode from the film, the figure of the Indian hotel owner is shown to express a phoney notion of unity between people of colour when he faces the threat a potential lawsuit from Demetrius and Tyrone. This apparent camaraderie is shattered when meet Mina and Demetrius in Biloxi and learns of their affair. He defames Demetrious and robs him of much of his business. Demetrius in turn files the lawsuit that he has earlier agreed to forego on goodwill further deepening the hostility between the two communities. Mina’s broadmindedness perhaps stems from the marginality that she experiences as a dark-skinned person within Indian American social circles. In a significant instance during a family ceremony, a female relative remarks of Mina’s apparently dismal marital prospects that one can either be light-skinned and poor or dark and rich but certainly not, as Mina is, both poor and dark. It is this peculiar, yet deep-rooted racism within her family that leads Mina to seek individuality, freedom and above all, love outside the deterministic bounds of family and ethnicity. It is also in this strain that film shows Mina to be frequently mistaken for a Latina. This fluidity of identity, fortified by her relationship with Demetrius, makes her a hybrid person, one who challenges conservative notions of regional, racial and linguistic homogeneity. The film’s title reiterates its political and social message of hybridity as well as tensions which brew beneath the surfaces of multicultural societies. The incongruity of Indian spices, with connotations of romance as well hostility and anger when juxtaposed with one of the most conservative states of the U.S. seems to herald the beginning of an American, and even global society where interracial relationships far from raising eyebrows shall become the norm, rendering the very notion of racial “purity” passe. The film combines many strands of history. Its setting in the Old South is a constant reminder of the horrors of slavery and the devastating consequences of racial intolerance and violence. It is perhaps not an insignificant detail that Demetrius’ family is essentially working class and their carpet cleaning business
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