Indian Media Outlets Push Back Against Whitewashing in ‘Dunkirk’
There are lots of positive things to say about Christopher Nolan’s new war epic (or, rather, avoidance-of-war epic) Dunkirk: Nolan has constructed a dignified tribute to his home nation of England, he’s successfully reproduced the chaotic intensity of combat on the cinematic plane, Harry Styles has really great hair, etc. But all the rightfully earned praise notwithstanding, there’s no getting around the fact that this movie has a whole lot of white dudes.
While some critics have made convincing arguments that massaging women into Nolan’s screenplay for the sake of simple representation would not have been the wisest move, the nation of India has a more well-founded beef. (Apologies for the idiomatic sacrilege.) The Hollywood Reporter recently ran an item explaining that several media outlets in the subcontinent have expressed dissatisfaction with Nolan’s eliding of the many Indian nationals who served at the real-life Dunkirk. In an article entitled “How Nolan forgot the desis at Dunkirk,” (“desi” being a colloquial term for an Indian person, for those not in the know) the Times of India called out the director for erasing the “significant contribution” of their boys in uniform. The newspaper put this error in perspective as well, noting that “the British public is more well-informed today about the Indian role in the World Wars.”
One would hope that Nolan had some greater intention with his blanket of whiteness, beyond simply wanting to cast actors that look like him. The closest lunge we can make at an explanation? Dunkirk is intently a movie about British manners and attitudes, to the point that it has to diss the French to make its own statement. But even that barely holds up — at that point in history, India was under the flag of the Empire, considered by many to be as British as anyone else. Bollywood Dunkirk remake, anyone?