Sharada: The Big Sick and Intersectionality


Big Sick

Synopsis: Brown man has Brown parents that try to arrange him with a Brown woman. Brown man does not like any of them. Brown Man who also happens to be a modern day taxi driver ends up meeting White woman. Strict Brown parents get mad cause she’s White. Brown man decides to be with her despite parents wishes. Everyone comes around at the end. And oh yeah. White woman got sick in the middle.

I was excited to see The Big Sick when it first came out. I had heard of it being a huge win for Brown people in Western media and given the lack of diversity in Hollywood, I was pretty pumped to see the movie. I had heard great reviews from my friends who had seen it, so my expectations were high. I went into the movie with the expectation that once leaving, the world would be an incrementally better place for us Brown people (yeah I know I am naive), but I left the theater confused as to why it had been talked about in such high regard. Was the movie so over my head and full of symbolism that I failed to catch on? Did I go to the bathroom and miss something big? No. That’s not me. I do not go to the bathroom during movies. 

After thinking about what I could have missed on my drive home, I realized a pattern. The only people telling me that this movie was revolutionary were Brown men and White people. I don’t think I heard one positive (or negative) review from a Brown woman. It was an ‘aha! Moment for me. I realized that The Big Sick sat with me weird because it failed to show an intersectional perspective of race. The Big Sick is not a step in the right direction for South Asians.

So. Here I am, explaining to you why this movie, and the positive reactions to it from mostly Brown men and White people had me ~*SHOOK*~ But before I go DEEP let me say that I am writing this post from the lense of a south asian American woman; This is my perspective.

Those who have seen this movie know that it’s technically a romantic comedy, but it is undeniable that the main point of this movie is race. It exposes the reality that dating cross culturally can be quite difficult, especially if you come from a conservative Pakistani family. That totally makes sense and is realistic. I have many friends who come from families like this. I also understand that this movie is based off of Kumail’s real life. I can’t deny any of his experiences, but I can critique how him and his wife decided to portray race on an international platform.

 Every single south asian women in this movie is portrayed as a one dimensional caricature (except the one token Brown woman that he gets rejected by). Take for example the ‘x-files woman’. She is nerdy, traditional, and overeager. In the words of Ted Mosby, she was the reacher and he was the settler. Her character is not desirable. Kumail felt better than her, and he had higher expectations for the women that he should be with.

Kumail also portrays his mother negatively. Like I mentioned, I know many traditional Brown aunties, but I really feel like her character was over exaggerated. She is extremely strict and obsessed with marriage. I mean…I feel like his mom completely ignoring him for choosing to be with the White girl might have been a little bit of an exaggeration.

Now compare the portrayals of these Brown women to Emily, the White woman Kumail falls in love with. The South Asian women in this movie are portrayed as undesirable and uptight while Emily is funny, quirky and desirable.

Keep in mind that Kumail Nanjiani is notorious for playing stereotypical Brown people roles. Take his character Dinesh from Silicon Valley. Dinesh has a thick Pakistani accent, is a Java expert and is known to be pathetic with women. I’m a little suspicious about the way someone who willingly agreed to portray this sort of role might also misrepresent other Brown characters.

Let me be clear, The Big Sick was kind of funny. My argument is not that is a horrible movie that should never have been made, my argument is that this movie does not progress the representation of Brown people in America. 

The Big Sick does not progress the representation of South Asians because although it might lift South Asian men up, it puts down South Asian Women. Anyone who says that it does represent South Asians well is ignoring the Brown woman's perspective. And to be frank, I am quite annoyed of the perspectives and stories of women being ignored, and malformed. Whenever we talk about race, we have to talk about gender and class. Everything is intertwined, everything is intersectional. 

Please share your thoughts in the comment section!