Community Cinema hosted a screening of the Independent Lens film LAKSHMI & ME this past weekend at the Chicago Cultural Center. The film gives an intimate look at the relationship between an employer and servant in India and the ingrained social and cultural attitudes that govern their lives. Regional Outreach Coordinator Naomi Walker gives an overview of the event.
A huge crowd packed the Chicago Cultural Center to sit in a dark theater on a beautiful sunny day to watch the Community Cinema screening of LAKSHMI & ME and participate in a lively discussion. In one word: Miraculous! Guest speakers included: Dr. Tarini Bedi, associate director of the South Asia language and area center and the committee on Southern Asian Studies at the University of Chicago; and Anuja Mehta, coordinator of transitional housing and case manager for Apna Ghar, Inc., a domestic violence shelter for Asian women.
Dr. Bedi and Ms. Mehta gave their initial impressions and thoughts about the film. Mehta went deeper by giving background information on abuse of domestic workers and gave an overview of the types of difficulties South Asian immigrants face in the United States. Many of these women have a hard time dealing with domestic violence and family members often do not come forward to get help she explained. Dr. Bedi got many questions from audience members looking for a better understanding of the caste system, its history and the different sub-castes and class differences in India. While the issue is very complicated, Dr. Bedi cleared up some common misunderstandings about caste.
In citing the character of “Aunty,” and her use of the word “destiny,” it was pointed out that members of the middle-class can oftentimes absolve themselves of responsibility for the plight of their servants, saying that they cannot change what one was born to. Once the discussion hit on the director’s intentions, the audience quickly turned passionate and even heated at points as they disagreed with each other on the purpose and impact of the film. Some people strongly believed that Director Nishtha Jain crossed the line into exploitation, while others argued that without this film, many people would never know about these types of issues facing domestic workers.
One audience member felt that because of the relationship of the employer/employee, Lakshmi (the servant) couldn’t have refused to participate. She believed that Ms. Jain (the employer) should have asked a domestic worker that wasn’t her employee to be in the film. A couple of folks disagreed with that idea, saying that it was crucial to get access for the story to be told in depth; access that a stranger couldn’t provide. In reading over the written feedback submitted after the film, one audience member wrote “I don’t feel the filmmaker crossed the line, but rather made a path––both for herself and others.” Despite disagreements about purpose and intention, everyone expressed admiration for Lakshmi and was moved by her story. Let the debate continue.
-Naomi, Regional Outreach Coordinator, Chicago
LAKSHMI & ME was presented by Apna Ghar, South Asia Language and Cultural Center & The Committee on Southern Asian Studies at the University of Chicago, ITVS, The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and WTTW Channel 11
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