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Dev Patel deserves better

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Catapulted to fame by Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008), though OG fans will know him from Skins, Dev Patel has enjoyed rare success in Hollywood as a British-Indian actor — so why do all of his films present him as a contrasting outsider to the rest of the majority white and Western characters? 

The Marigold Hotel franchise paints India as an exotic colonial getaway for aging Brits, while Patel is a happy-to-serve, yes-sir no-sir, head wobbling Indian that provides both comic relief and impeccable service to the white immigrants, sorry, ex-pats who have decided to settle there.

The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015) tells the story of pioneering Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, yet the narrative frames his friendship with the British mathematician who invites him to Cambridge as the turning point in his career that led him to success. 

Though Lion (2016) is based on the memoirs of the real Saroo Brierly, the contradictory romanticisation and condemnation of poverty in India, without making any political statements at all, mirrors the Western gaze of Slumdog. Alongside the blatantly white saviour narrative that Nicole Kidman and David Wenham’s characters represent, though both films pack an emotional punch, they still leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

Not only are these examples offensive, racist, stereotypical, and colonialist, it’s disrespectful to the population of young Brit-Asians who were so excited to see a brown face as one of the gang on Skins.

Though there are more brown faces making an appearance on our screens, more British-Asian voices behind the camera are needed if actors like Patel are to be given roles they deserve. Enough of films like Victoria and Abdul being the predominant narrative about India represented on our big screens. Enough of India being viewed through a white colonialist lens. Enough of Dev Patel being the only brown face on screen in his films, and enough of his characters being othered.

The British-Asian diaspora deserve stories that reflect our experiences, and Dev Patel deserves to be cast in less exploitative roles. On his 28th birthday, it’s time to speak out and demand better.

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