PETITION AGAINST FUNNY BOY FILM- SUPPORT QUEER TAMILS
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Queer Tamil Collective (QTC*) calls on members of the public to join us in our strong opposition to Deepa Mehta’s irresponsible filmmaking practices, collusion with a genocidal regime, and erasure of Tamil identities in her film Funny Boy. While the original novel by Shyam Selvadurai is loved and appreciated by Queer Tamils worldwide, Mehta’s casting practices, rendering of Tamil history, language, and representation in the film are unacceptable.
The film raises urgent questions about the priorities, equity policies, and funding practices of the Canadian cultural institutions supporting the film. Telefilm Canada, CBC Films, and Ontario Creates are all funded by public tax dollars. Mehta’s film version of Funny Boy marginalizes Tamils, a minority in Sri Lanka and Canada while purporting to tell their stories of marginalization. Publicly funded cultural institutions are accountable to the public. We call on them to respond to Tamil voices, take immediate remedial action on Funny Boy, and drop their dangerously simplistic notions of diversity.
KEY PROBLEMS WITH DEEPA MEHTA’S FUNNY BOY:
1. Inaccuracy of the Tamil Language, Lack of Tamil Casting
Mehta’s Funny Boy insults Tamils with the sloppy Tamil spoken in Funny Boy while arrogantly submitting the film as a Tamil language contender at the Oscars. The Tamil language is the lifeblood of Tamil identity. The 1983 anti-Tamil riots, featured in the book and film, saw extensive death, devastation, and state-sanctioned Tamil erasure. Tamils around the world are haunted by memories of family members hunted and butchered as homes burned. Over 100,000 Tamil civilian lives were lost and many were exiled. The distorted Tamil language in Mehta’s Funny Boy trailer and lack of affirmative action in casting Tamil actors in lead roles is yet another example of Tamil cultural erasure. Mehta’s response to community outcry was to send the film to India for another problematic dubbing.
2. Collaboration with War Criminals and Crimes Against Humanity
Deepa Mehta’s collaboration with the Sri Lankan Sinhalese regime precedes the production of Funny Boy. In 2010, in the wake of a brutal 2009 military-led massacre of Tamils, she struck a deal with then-President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa to shoot her film Midnight’s Children on the Island. In spite of the international outcry against Rajapaksa and the Sri Lankan Army’s violent and bloody war crimes, Mehta thanked the Sri Lankan government and military in the credits.
3. Disregard for the Queer Tamil Identity
Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai was a unique public cultural validation of Queer Tamil life. For us, racial anti-Tamil violence is inextricably linked to homophobia in Sri Lanka and around the world. Homosexuality remains illegal in Sri Lanka and public homophobic violence includes abuses by police, military, judicial and medical officers. Tamils in the diaspora are also subject to violent homophobia. Within Tamil communities, entrenched homophobia means many of us have been disowned, shunned, and ostracized because of who we are and who we love. Mainstream groups like the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) do not speak for us. Outside the community, the recent serial murders of brown men in Toronto are a tragic illustration of our continued vulnerability to public racist homophobic violence.
4. Insulting “consultations”
Deepa Mehta has scornfully responded to Tamil concerns by pitting gay identity against Tamil integrity thereby erasing the lead character’s doubly marginalized intersectionality as both gay and Tamil. Her crew’s handful of superficial post-production consultations with Tamils and Queer Tamils have been disrespectful, uncompensated, and dismissive of their concerns.
5. Lack of meaningful equity, respectful engagement, and accountability
For too long Deepa Mehta has had a singular monopoly on the making of South Asian films in Canada. South Asia is a diverse region of more than seventy languages, conflicting sexual and gender identities, caste, class, and cultural hierarchies. Canadian cultural institutions such as Telefilm, CBC, and OntarioCreates must take immediate steps to prioritize those whose stories are most erased, ignored, and exiled within South Asian and all marginalized communities.
WE, THE UNDERSIGNED, SUPPORT QTC’S STANCE ON THE FUNNY BOY FILM
WE CALL ON DEEPA MEHTA, TELEFILM, CBC, AND ONTARIO CREATES TO IMMEDIATELY TAKE THE FOLLOWING STEPS:
1. Deepa Mehta immediately stop dismissing, discrediting, minimizing, and attacking critical voices speaking out on the erasures of the Queer Tamil identity in her film Funny Boy.
2. She and her crew issue a public apology to 2SLGBTQ+ people and Tamils for the film and any disrespect, abuse, lack of accountability, and lack of compensation to those who have made good faith efforts to critique and improve the film.
3. Telefilm Canada withdraws Funny Boy as Canada’s Tamil language submission to the 2021 Oscars for the Best International Feature Film category in acknowledgment of the concerns expressed by Tamils and Queer Tamils.
4. CBC Films, Telefilm Canada, and Ontario Creates take immediate steps to move beyond dangerously reductive notions of diversity by engaging minorities within Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour communities in Canada towards the implementation of meaningful equity and inclusion in cultural production, funding, policies, priorities, and processes.
5. CBC commits to sharing, broadcasting, and amplifying QTC’s intersectional voice, concerns, and critiques of the film Funny Boy on its multiple platforms including CBC TV and Radio programming and social media.
We look forward to moving this conversation forward.
*QTC is a group of Queer Tamils living in the Diaspora. Queer Tamils have been at the foreground of advocacy and activism in Canadian arts and culture for over three decades. Our resounding voice of intersectionality speaks to the violence that we continue to endure being Queer and Tamil.
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