There is this scene in “Indiana Jones: The Temple of Doom”, where Dr. Jones is stranded in a stranger land after his plane has crashed unhelpfully and tracing an ominous soundtrack and some disgruntled huffs from his soon-to-be girlfriend we find out that the “dangerous” land is our very own motherland, thanks to Indie’s said soon-to-be girlfriend who jumps out of her skin when the black, wrinkled face of an Indian old man appears on screen.
(No offence, but looks a bit racist there, Spielberg!)
Anyway, those who have watched the movie already know how Dr. Jones is treated as a God in no time amidst more black faces, emaciated bodies and needy, barbaric, pathetic appearances, and when he has his ego boosted enough to feed the entire US, (I’m kidding, he does it from the goodness of his heart!) he decides to help those poor creatures find peace, save them.
Okay, without further ado, here I come to the point and say that this is the earliest instance of white saviour complex I noticed in pop culture. Later, I found out that it’s always been this way, the Westerners just love to portray the poverty, rusticity and savageness of the underdeveloped countries and it made me realize why films like “ City of Joy“, “Blood Diamond“, “The Blind Side” and “Django Unchained” are easily awarded by the Academy. Basically, white saviour complex is the “grown up” term for the popular trope in which the white guy saves the black guy, sometimes even his malnourished country, and educates the primitive non-white people. It’s a little disturbing because India is not all about snakes and black magic; Kenya, Uganda are not only about ghostly children with gritty bones and no flesh to cover them. Yes, Angelina Jolie going to Africa, posing with starving children and maybe adopting one or two is nice because we need as much kindness as we can get in the world but the way it is shown in media is not. We often come across stories including white travels to “exotic” Asian locations, white defense against racism in the American South, or white protagonists having “racially diverse” sidekicks (looking at you, Marvel, DC).
About that, Kathleen Fitzgerald, professor of sociology, says, “While a successful film genre, this image is problematic because it frames the person of colour as unable to solve their own problems, as incompetent.” That is why Emma Watson talking about P.O.C feminism is fine but it’s even better if we hear it from Priyanka Chopra, Malala Yousufzai, or Nicki Minaj. Many famous people from the P.O.C (Person of Colour) community are changing the world every day, they are the proof that we are capable of solving our own problems; Yet Angelina Jolie is commended for the same work Kim Kardashian is doing, but the latter is condemned.
Steve Waugh coming to India and opening cricket schools makes the worldwide news; does Sourav Ganguly opening several institutions in India make the headline for New York Times too? No. Why? Because while Steve Waugh is being extraordinarily generous when he doesn’t have to, it’s Ganguly’s duty for his underdeveloped country and therefore he doesn’t quite deserve the same appreciation? White saviour complex is glorifying America over and over in the media stating how they have done so much for the war-torn countries like Syria, Istanbul, Afghanistan and conveniently forgetting that they are the very instigator of the wars and general political unrest there. White savior complex is believing Jesus was white (Well, He must have felt really alienated being the only white guy in the Middle East!).
In all seriousness, it is hurting our self esteem so much so that we are constantly training ourselves to look like a white, talk like a white, be like a white as if it’s simply better. I propose we do not forget the fantastic and rich culture we already have and strive to walk side by side with the Western one, without completely dismissing either. Ours is the culture that made wearing bindi “cool”, taught the world the ways of yoga to live a healthy life, introduced a whole new cuisine that people all over the world rave about, we are already so much better.