This approach really came from the fact that I am Indian, but I am born and raised in America. Here in America, people look at me like I am a foreigner, but I don’t feel like one. In India, I don’t look like a foreigner, but I feel like one. I face a lot of judgment from other Indians when they find out I don’t speak Hindi, or I don’t watch Bollywood films that often, or that I have limited knowledge of Indian customs or traditions. Throughout my whole life, it seemed like I was a part of two worlds, but never completely belonged in either of them. I often questioned “how Indian” I really am. Some of my friends joke around with me by saying “I fail as an Indian.” Are there certain things I’m supposed to be doing just because I’m Indian? I have often questioned, “What if I was a black person” or “What if I was white?”, would my life be so different? Could I still be the same person if I wasn’t Indian? So I wanted to write a story that asked, “If I am a person of a different race or ethnicity, how much is my race supposed to define me? If I am a person of color, can I still have the freedom to be whoever I want without worrying about representing my ethnicity?” I want this story to show that you can be anyone, no matter what color you are.
Have you as a filmmaker who is also a person of color felt any resistance from potential supporters or others regarding your desire to make films about people of color?
I do have to hear all the time how hard it is for filmmakers and actors of color to make it in the industry. Industry professionals always talk about how major studios aren’t convinced that actors of color will make any money. I personally have faced resistance from both American and Indian filmmakers.
When I tell American filmmakers “I want to make movies where Indian actors get lead roles”, they laugh and just say, “Go to Bollywood, kid.”
But then I talk to Indian filmmakers and say, “I want to make movies like Jurassic Park, King Kong, Godzilla, or other kinds of films that you don’t often see in India.” The Indian filmmakers tell me “Stay in Hollywood, kid, because your films won’t fit well with Indian audiences.”
I always describe myself as “that one guy” who believes that there is a way to bridge the gap between Indian and American films. People often tell me that you can’t make film that will appeal to both American and Indian audience. But I personally don’t believe that and I’m setting out to prove them wrong.
I think those conversations are bringing attention to the issue. But it’s still up to those filmmakers of color to actually do the work and make those films happen. I have had this film in my head for almost a year now. Some people told me that I should’ve waited until I had a production company backing me up so I can make this a feature film. But I did not want to wait for someone to approve what kind of film I can make. If you really care about filmmaking, then you work with what you have and you let nothing stop you. I made this film independently with my close friends and local actors in Chicago, and I am extremely proud of it. You shouldn’t have to ask permission to tell your story, you just need to believe in yourself, your cast, and your crew.
As a filmmaker who wants to change the public's and industry's view of who can play which roles based on gender and race, what are some practical improvements you'd like to see made in the film industry to increase inclusion?
These are some quotes that my actors gave me when I was casting them for the film:
Terrell Pierce (Lewis Clark) – “This is my first leading role in a film, and this character is the complete opposite of what people would expect a black character to be.”
Eva Agrawat (Indian Lisa) – “There was actually a role written for an Indian actress, not just 'Any Ethnicity,' but specifically written for an Indian, and that doesn’t happen very often.”
Pearl Paramadilok (Chinese Lisa) – “I’m excited that I have normal lines in this film, as opposed to broken English.”
I took a lot of pride in the fact that these actors felt like I was giving them actual roles, instead of giving them a stereotypical or minor role. I’m hoping to set an example for future filmmakers that actors of color can play any character. Black people don’t always have to play criminals or gangsters. Asians don’t always have to play foreigners. Hispanics don’t always have to play drug dealers.
Also, this is the first film I have done that has a pretty much all-female cast. On set, I was constantly making fun of Terrell for being the only male in this film. This film has also inspired me to want to write more roles for females, especially females of color.
I’m a big fan of the TV Show Quantico, starring Priyanka Chopra. That show has all the characters I could wish for, such as an Indian in a lead role and a Muslim who is not a terrorist. I’ve come to notice that a lot of my stories now are about multiple races coming together, and I think Quantico has helped inspire me to do that. Priyanka Chopra is someone who I have really grown to admire. She is very well known in both India and the U.S., and I think she has opened the door for more Indian actors getting recognition in America. If destiny is on my side, hopefully I will have the pleasure of working with her, because I do have a role written for her in one of my feature film scripts, but only time will tell.
I am an Indian filmmaker, so I want to make films involving people of my background. But I am born and raised in America, so the films that inspired me are Jurassic Park, King Kong, and Godzilla, so I will admit, my ultimate goal is to make those big Hollywood films. For a long time, I believed that American or Indian filmmakers would not take my work seriously. But instead of being ashamed for how different I am, I decided to embrace it, and that's where this film came from.
You might be someone who thinks that your skin color or your ethnicity is something that will get in the way of who you want to be. Never think that way. There is a reason you are you. There is a reason why your life is different from this other person. Never be ashamed of your life or how you turned out, because that’s what makes you unique.
Your race does not have to define who you are. You can be anyone you want, no matter what anyone says.
Sreejith Nair was born and raised in Forest Park, Illinois, a suburb right outside of Chicago. His family is from Kerala, a southern state in India. He watched my first movie, Disney’s Dinosaur, when he was five years old and has had a passion for film ever since. He attended Columbia College Chicago to study Film, and graduated in the Class of 2016. His ultimate goal is to direct feature films and make it in the L.A. film industry.
To read more about this film and to connect with the filmmaker, please visit:
Facebook: Sreejith Nair
Facebook: The Color of Me
Photos and video courtesy of S. Nair