Racist Undertones in “A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding”
Christmas movies are a large part of the holiday season. Sitting by the TV in Christmas attire, drinking hot chocolate or eggnog, and watching a cheesy Christmas movie is a part of the Christmas tradition for many people. While they are quite cliched and predictable, that is exactly what people love about them. They are wholesome and festive films that spread joy and cheer during the holidays. While it is fun to watch Christmas movies because one does not have to pay too much attention or get too invested, it is important to always be critical of the media one consumes. As some Christmas films fall into problematic areas, such as the second installment of the A Christmas Prince trilogy released in 2018.
The sequel to the highly successful A Christmas Prince (2017) introduces the character of Sahil Mattu, a wedding planner. This Indian character could have been a positive representation of Desi people in contemporary media. However, Netflix ended up depicting a more stereotypical and harmful portrayal of a South Asian man.
Incorrect Pronunciation of “Sahil”
Firstly, the pronunciation of his name throughout the film is the first indicator of ignorance and racial insensitivity. In the film, everyone, including Sahil, who only refers to himself in the third person, pronounces his name as “sah-heel”. However, this traditionally Desi name is actually pronounced “sah-hill”. Although only mentioned once in the film, his surname is mispronounced as well. When Sahil introduces himself, he says “sah-heel mat-two” when it is actually pronounced “sah-hill mutt-oo”. By ignoring how a name is pronounced, especially a simple and easy to pick up pronunciation, the film not only disrespects the character but all South Asian people with traditional names.
Stereotypical Accent and Mannerisms
Secondly, the accent and mannerisms are stereotypical and harmful in their depiction of Desi people. This is not the fault of British-Indian actor Rajendra Bajaj but the choice of the network and production teams. If his character had a British or American accent like the other characters, it would not have been an issue. It seems odd to single out one character as having an accent. However, the issue does not lie in his character having an accent, but the type of accent he has. His accent can be compared to Apu from The Simpsons or Baljeet from Phineas and Ferb. It is an unrealistic Indian accent that employs inflections and enunciations that are not typical of people with Indian accents. It is an impression of what non-Desi people think Indians sound like, as is evidenced by decades of negative Indian depictions in Hollywood.
Clothes And Their Perception
Thirdly, and finally, Sahil wearing only metallic sherwanis throughout the film also appears to be racially motivated. He is described as a highly sought-after and successful wedding planner who even planned the wedding of the Baroness of Frankfurt. While this might seem like a way for his character to honour his culture throughout his business dealings, it is again odd that he is the only character of colour to do so. Especially when dealing with royals, most people, especially experienced business people would opt for professional attire that follows whatever royal protocol dictates. His only wearing sherwanis implies that they are typical pieces of clothing that are worn regularly. This is not true, as sherwanis, especially metallic and embroidered ones, are typically only worn on special occasions. This is another way Desi culture and people are disrespected.
Racist Microaggressions in Film
While the character of Sahil is not overtly or explicitly problematic in its depiction of a minority and marginalized group, for example as compared to Mr. Yunioshi played by white actor Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it is still an issue. Like a lot of racism and ethnic discrimination that occurs today, it is done through microaggressions. It may seem like discussing Sahil in the sequel of A Christmas Prince might seem like falling victim to oversensitivity, but it is through popular depictions like this that negative stereotypes are perpetuated. While the movie and the trilogy as a whole are enjoyable, the poor execution of what could have been a wonderful character is a stain on its success and popularity.
Positive South Asian Representation
Positive representation means that the minority group being depicted is shown in an honest and appropriate manner. Many films since the 2010s have aimed to better represent BIPOC people after decades of backlash, criticism, and protest from the marginalized communities. Some examples of positive South Asian representation in Hollywood are: Devi Vishwakumar from Never Have I Ever, Olivia Hanan in Sex Education, and Hasan Minhaj in Patriot Act. The first two are desi characters played by desi actresses. Their cultures are depicted in their shows but never in a negative way. The latter is a famous Desi comedian who does not make fun of Desi culture in a way that Russell Peters does. It is important to represent South Asians positively so that negative and harmful stereotypes are not reinforced.
Improvements in the Final Film of the Trilogy
It is important to note that Sahil’s depiction in the third film of the trilogy is far less problematic. He is not always shown wearing metallic sherwanis and spoke with a far less exaggerated accent. The third film also introduced new characters, King Tai and Queen Ming from Penglia, who are clearly of East Asian descent. These characters are also not wholly innocent in their depictions of East Asian characters, but appear less aggressive than the approach taken with Sahil in the previous film. They do not speak with stereotypical East Asian accents and do not dress in stereotypical East Asian attire. However, they do show Queen Ming as submissive and hesitant to embrace feminism until white saviour Queen Amber changes her mind. Perhaps, Netflix tried to fix their mistake.
While Netflix’s efforts are appreciated, it does not undo the harm caused by Sahil’s character in the second film of the trilogy. Since the A Christmas Prince trilogy, Netflix has released another Christmas trilogy, The Princess Switch films starring Vanessa Hudgens. These films do not acknowledge race, which can be harmful in its own way. However, it is a healthy way for this genre to include POC (people of colour) in the films without playing into harmful stereotypes. Maybe Netflix learned their lesson or received significant backlash, but they appear to be doing a better job now.
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