Aletho News


The Skewed Depiction of Colonialism in “Victoria and Abdul”

By Kate Harveston | American Herald Tribune | October 3, 2017

Some will tell you that we should no longer be obligated to bear the sins of our nation’s past, playing the masochistic martyr and ignoring any spatiotemporal context. However, what they don’t understand is that it’s less about bearing responsibility for something in the past and more about being balanced when portraying it and bringing it back to life. The real issue comes into play when a past contentious issue is exploited and monetized with bias. Colonialism in today’s supposedly civilized society is a caricature of inequality and what progressive culture is against.

The movie Victoria and Abdul was recently released. In it, Stephen Frears tells the story of Queen Victoria, who is played by Dame Judi Dench, and her unlikely friendship with Abdul, who is played by Ali Fazal. What follows is an intentionally romanticized version of an otherwise unsettling story within tragic circumstances.

The Matter of the Movie

Queen Victoria is introduced to Abdul, an Indian servant who is shipped from India without any choice, to gift the queen with a coin. The queen is characterized as an exceptionally enlightened monarch and, ironically, almost as an egalitarian. In one scene, she accuses her court of being racialists, therefore doubtlessly endearing the character to a 21st-century audience.

Abdul, on the other hand, has barely any character at all. He’s objectified as a mere prop to only reflect the wonder of the queen and the glory of the Empress of India. Treated as some sort of bright and sparkly new toy or exotic pet, Abdul is portrayed as eternally grateful for having been brought to England for the great privilege of being part of this glorious people.

What is even more peculiar is that Frears’ Abdul seems to absolve any wrongdoing by the Queen — even when his fellow Indian servant dies as an ill-treated slave to the British. This all culminates in the final shot which epitomizes everything absolutely ill-considered and just frankly wrong about the film. It shows Abdul, having returned to India, kissing the feet of Queen Victoria’s statue in front of the Taj Mahal.

The overriding issue with period dramas such as Victoria and Abdul is that they romanticize colonialism and sell it to the masses as light entertainment. This is a direct insult against the historic abuse and injustices that colonized countries faced at the hands of the ruling empire of the time. Unfortunately, it’s not only the media. Even the royals, to this day, should be more cautious of how they represent their past link with India.

The Darker Reality

The reality was that the Victorian era was accountable for horrific atrocities in India, both on a humanitarian and an economic level. Shashi Tharoor has been particularly vocal about how Britain furthered its own industrial revolution by decimating India’s accrued share of the world economy. The nature of this profiteering had appalling and disastrous consequences.

Through Britain’s exploitation of India’s agricultural products like grain, the Indian people found themselves in unimaginable poverty — an epidemic of poverty in which 20 million people are thought to have died. The Great Famine and the Indian Famine, however, are rarely talked about.

Furthermore, the evils that India suffered under the British Raj were not only confined to tragedies that resulted from consequences of otherwise economically motivated actions, but also through direct aggression and violence driven by racism. The Amritsar massacre in 1919 saw a major murder spree of peaceful, nonviolent protestors. Over 1,000 Indians perished by gunfire at the hands of the British army.

How, then, can the film and television world and British media in general so easily gloss over such unimaginable injustices with nostalgia, romanticism and even comedy? Well, the problem goes slightly deeper than just monetization. Even though Frears knew what he was doing and will doubtless enjoy a profit from appealing to the audience via this whitewashed and jewel-encrusted version of colonialism, far too few people will even identify a problem with it. This is due to Britain’s own brand of causal propaganda.

British history — where Britain institutionalized pain and suffering of seemingly lesser peoples — has barely been featured in the country’s history books. It wasn’t only injustices in India that have been ignored in both media as well as education. Britain invented the world’s first concentration camps in South Africa, where Boer settlers were incarcerated, raped and worked to death. When referring to the deaths of over 25,000 Boer women and children, Lloyd George, future Prime Minister of Great Britain, said, “We are simply ranging the deepest passions of the human heart against British rule in Africa.” However, today’s generation only hears of how Britain stood against the Afrikaners during Apartheid.

Given that it’s now 2017, and that Britain is one of the forerunners in the international fight against illiberal governing, surely admitting your own nation’s past and bearing your mistakes by way of example is the more inclusive route to encouraging true democracies. In that way, producers, writers and directors of British film and television have a real responsibility here, and need to examine the racist injustices Britain has built itself upon. The victims of the past, current and future would be less offended, and healing and peace processes could begin to be brokered.

October 3, 2017 - Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Film Review, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | ,

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