Slumdog Millionaire, Poverty and the Hard Truth

Jennie Kermode with Eye For Film just wrote an excellent article about the issues surrounding Slumdog Millionaire – the lessons of the movie, the fate of the actual child actors, and the life portrayed in the film that is the hard reality of millions of other children in India, often unseen.

Jennie contacted me to ask for some information about my experiences and reaction to the film, and has quoted me in the article. She says, “After watching Slumdog Millionaire, many viewers will feel they’ve gained an insight into this difficult life. Perhaps as a consequence, donations to charities working in this area have increased, yet there have also been accusations of exploitation concerning the film’s child stars.

But these are just two children, and whilst western eyes may be wide with horror at the thought of the bright young stars having to face poverty, millions of others are forgotten.

‘Currently 25 million Indian children there live without homes or families of their own,’ says author Shelley Seale. ‘They live in orphanages, slums, railway stations or on the streets. Yes, that’s 25 million – equivalent to the population of the entire state of Texas. They are highly vulnerable to abuse, harassment, HIV/AIDS, and being trafficked into child labor if they’re lucky – brothels if they’re not.’

Seale has spent three years travelling around India to research her book, The Weight Of Silence, which explores the lives of children like these. Stating that Slumdog Millionaire portrayed their situation ‘all too well’, she says ‘like everyone, I loved the magical, feel-good ending. But I also hope desperately that we will not forget that there is no such fairytale ending for millions of Indian children in similar circumstances. For them, such dreams will remain only that.’

So what can be done to help the situation? The makers of Slumdog Millionaire have donated $1m to charities tackling child poverty in India, and the money should go a long way. But by presenting audiences with fairytale solutions, do films like this encourage them to believe that poverty isn’t really so bad, so that even if they donate in the short term they’ll stop worrying about it in the long term? Some critics have suggested that Hollywood exploits poverty to profit from viewers who may be motivated by social conscience or by voyeurism.”

Jennie goes on to ask one of the most uncomfortable questions I have ever encountered: “In an affluent world, is poverty one of the last truly exotic experiences?

Read the entire article here, and decide for yourself.

And please – don’t forget those millions of children.

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About Shelley Seale

I'm Shelley, a journeyer and learner of the world, freelance journalist and author, yoga chick and dog lover. I pound the keyboard from home barefoot every day, and while my boss is demanding she also occasionally lets me have the early afternoon cocktail. I think not going into an office or collecting corporate paychecks are very good ideas, though not always profitable. I have written for National Geographic, USA Today, The Guardian, Texas Monthly and CNN, among others. Neither the New York Times nor Johnny Depp have answered my letters yet. I love yoga, indie movies, wine, and books, though not necessarily in that order. I believe in karma. Mean people suck. If I could have any dream job I would like to be a superhero. I have performed a catch on the flying trapeze, boarded down a live volcano and was once robbed by a monkey in Nepal. But, I don't know how to whistle. My mantra is "travel with a purpose."

Posted on June 13, 2009, in India and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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