End It Like Beckham

"Bend It Like Beckham" does not accurately represent Indian culture

Amiya Chennappan, Staff Writer

     Bend it Like Beckham was a moment in pop culture. A moment when children of immigrants everywhere, especially Indian immigrants, felt represented. Being Indian-American, I was elated when I heard we would be watching and analyzing that movie for the culture unit in English II.

     However, after much thought and deliberation, I believe the movie should not be praised because of the tunnel vision perception of Indian culture which it promotes.

     At first, I was excited to see an Indian story represented in class and share a moment of cultural exchange with my classmates. Although after watching a great Ted Talk called The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I had even stronger feelings against the messages promoted in Bend it Like Beckham. In the TedTalk, Adichie describes how the promotion of only one type of story among an entire group of people affects outsiders. For those who are not a part of the culture, it creates an overgeneralized idea of a group of people in their mind. This clicked immediately for me, which made me reconsider Bend it Like Beckham.

     The movie presents one story, and it is essentially the only story about Indians in western culture. It is one where immigrant parents are overly oppressive and appear unloving to their first generation child who is just trying to “live their dreams”. It’s not to say that the story doesn’t exist for many people of Indian descent, however, it’s the main representation that people of non-Indian descent care to see. For our English classes purposes, we were assigned an essay to write which analyzes the main character, Jess, and her desires to play soccer, which clashed with her parents’ cultural expectation of her. This one perceived aspect of Indian culture is made out to be an antagonist, something in which Jess must overcome in order to liberate herself. This presents the entirety of Indian culture negatively as something repressive and an obstacle to a happy life.

    On top of the overgeneralized negative view of Indian culture illustrated in the movie, the white characters, including friends and soccer coach, were the ones who seemingly led Jess to a fulfilled life without her culture holding her back. On the coach’s behalf, he seemed to encourage her to defy her culture entirely, instead of it being something to take pride in as she found her way in the world. The message of a white guy leading an Indian girl, showing her the light so to say, if she didn’t have her Indian culture to hold her back, is certainly not a story that should be praised. It creates a victim complex in other people’s minds that all Indians suffer under the rule of strict parents and need to be saved by being shown a “better” and “more free” path.

     Opponents say the movie depicts the conflict between cultural expectations and individual desires. Some also promote the movie as being a step forward for a more diverse representation in mainstream western media. The cultural conflict undeniably exists in the movie, but at what cost? Representing a large group of people, and the culture they take pride in as evil and unfair is incredibly isolating in trying to gain more cultural understanding. Only in a more broad representation can cultural conflicts be fully understood by all parties. The diverse representation created by the movie is also undeniable. However, the movie came out in 2002, and media has moved past illustrating groups of people as a generalized idea with only one story to tell.  

    The movie should not be praised or shown in class; instead, it should be accepted as a single story among many others. It depicts the majority of Indian culture in a negative light, and compares it against western expectations and standards, presenting quite an ethnocentric stance. The movie doesn’t bring people closer to understanding other cultures. Bend it Like Beckham is a movie about Indians, by an Indian, and for no one.