A Suitable Girl

A Suitable Girl Movie Poster
Looking at Marriage from an Eastern Perspective

A Suitable Girl is a documentary on Amazon Prime video that follows three women and their journeys into married life. It is a great film to think about love and marriage from a completely different perspective than we have in the west. I am always amazed at how vastly different the approach to love and marriage is between the two cultures.

This documentary drops you into the East Indian values with immediacy as you meet the three women and learn their family situations and what is going on regarding getting married. It is true that in India parents prepare from the moment a daughter is born to lose her to her future husband and his family. This is a given from the start of any girl’s life in India.

From that fundamental tenet, we meet the three women who are all living with their family of origin and in vastly different situations. One is preparing to marry a man she chose herself – they were high school mates – and move away to a different state. A second one is an intellectual and highly educated, with a Mother who is a matchmaker, except she cannot play this role for her daughter. And, last, is a woman who is turning 30 and has been in the marriage matchmaking game for several years with no results.

Unlike in America, in India the family is heavily involved with this decision of whom their daughters will marry. From taking pictures for the marital ads to attending marriage meet-ups, to meeting a prospective suitor and his family over tea, this is a family affair. The whole family is invested in making the very best match it can for the daughter. For families with daughters, they are looking for money and status. For the families with sons, often beauty and light skin are named as desirable qualities. Very traditional — even in 2017.

In America. it is on the individual man and woman to meet, determine if the person is a potential mate, date/live together for a time, and then marry one another. This process can take years and is often founded on the idea that “being in love” and “physically attracted” to the other as the paramount qualities to deciding if two will marry one another.

In India, as you will see if you watch this documentary, love hardly factors in to this decision at all. Rather, the couples’ horoscope should match, the man should be from a “good” family and have high earnings, and the woman can be educated, but also beautiful and fair-skinned, as well as one who appreciates the traditional wifely duties of cooking and caring for elders. After all, she will leave her parents and join him, often in his parent’s home to take care of them. Matches are set within minutes of meeting.

Which way is right? Which way is wrong? Being a bi-racial woman made up equally of Caucasian and East-Indian identities, I believe both ways have merit and each view is a way to meet and marry. The latter is far more communal and practical, but I think more of this in the western way we choose our spouses, would be a good thing. Simultaneously, infusing a little more time to get to know the other with some space away from one’s birth family would also be a good thing for the way toward an Indian marriage.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this review of A Suitable Girl in Variety that slams the Indian way toward marriage. Being half Indian, I am offended by this review and complete criticism of the film and these three women’s lives as they journey toward marriage. Yes, it is constricted by tradition, but it is also tradition that guides their lives as well. It’s hard to keep any type of open mind with these types of reviews.

I suppose the women each have their own “happy” ending. Whether in the East or the West, I think this is a Disney promise that often proves to be elusive. Nothing can prepare a person for marriage and all that comes with it no matter how societies try to approach the landmark decision in one’s life.

I believe there is merit in watching such a documentary to expand our minds as to the different ways people approach marriage around the globe. Feeling stuck in the western way? Get out of yourself and see a new perspective.

Little Women Viewed from a Multicultural Lens

I was perusing the New York Times the other Sunday and came across an interesting article regarding another Oscar contender, Little Women. The author’s point of view on the film was written from an African-American perspective. The article is titled The Bearable Whiteness of Little Women.

The author’s take is that Louisa May Alcott has written a book about the March sisters that transcends their whiteness and simply inhabits their times and offers one filter on how to move in the world as women navigating difficult waters in the 19th century. When the author talks about being black and watching the film and says,”empathy looks less like identifying with the other and more like emotional hegemony” I can understand her perspective.

Little Women is certainly a book of Alcott’s time and her characters and their struggles do offer only one lens through which to view it and is not the only defining way to have interacted during those times. However, reading the book today, seeing this movie on screen during the times we live in today, it is hard to suspend one’s feelings regarding race, particularly if one is made up of more than one race.

I look at the March sisters and I identify with them, not only on an emotional level, but in looking like them, i.e. white. I am not wholly white, but the March sisters invite me into their world and into myself that is racially made-up of two parts, I find it easier to embody my whiteness and abandon my color so I too can be like them.

It is one thing to say clearly, I am wholly another race and I can appreciate this film not by identifying with the white characters, but by being emotionally present with them and their experiences. It is another to be half white and half color and be seduced by these characters to the point that biracial and multiracial people end up forgetting a part of their racial identity – even if only for a time.

In watching films like this, I notice how I am apt to completely identify with one part of my racial make-up and sort of feel grateful that I look like these courageous characters. Simultaneously, I can see myself abandoning my East-Indian identity, grateful that I don’t appear Indian as then I would not be like them, i.e. the other. The cascade of shame descends upon me.

When one is half white and half color, the line one walks is one that challenges us to remain whole in our identity — neither putting down the side that the media glorifies nor feeling shame for taking distance from our color.

I loved Little Women. However, after the film, as I thought about the March sisters and their trials and turbulations, I found myself completely identified with them. Where did my Indian side go? I didn’t see her there nor did I want to.