Angrezee: A Fresh Look into The Immigrant Story
When I came across writer and director Hebah Ali's TikTok video about her new short film, Angrezee, I think it took all of twenty seconds to jump onto Youtube and immediately watch what was sixteen minutes of some seriously noteworthy content. The film follows Fahad, played by Sam Sidhu, who is a single dad that struggles to teach himself and his daughter, Sufi, English — until he finds an interesting new sitcom that fragments what we as an audience are used to typically seeing.
The film came into fruition through a conversation about the nuances in learning English as an immigrant and how some learn through schooling and many through the consumption of popular media, like TV shows. One of the things that sparked inspiration for Ali was JAY-Z's music video, Moonlight, which depicted an all-black Friends cast — so now what would an all-Asian, non-English speaking '70s sitcom cast look like? Using the very real and profound experiences of immigrant culture, Angrezee exists in this almost meta form where it provides its immigrant and POC audience with representation whilst fulfilling that same yearning for familiarity for the main character, Fahad.
When it comes to representation, or rather the lack of it, what many South Asians have grown up with are characters whose only purpose on screen is to be the comic relief for a white Western audience. The stereotypical Indian accents, terrorist and corner shop tropes have been rinsed and recycled for decades. Only recently with the emergence of Mindy Kaling, Riz Ahmed, Kumail Nanjiani and a few others have we seen South Asians in the mainstream being able to play characters that are completely trope-less or characters that are culturally genuine. It's this detokenisation that Ali aimed to embed whilst creating this resonating story.
With films like Crazy Rich Asians and Netflix shows like Never Have I Ever, we can see how diverse representation can be presented well and that the pseudo economic excuse that it's not palatable for a white audience is simply no longer true. However, even with this progress, tokenisation of minorities is still rife as a new generation of tropes come out of the woodworks. From Muslim women being burka-clad to now unveiling and the black best friend now morphing into the Asian best friend, diverse representation is yet to reach any sort of equitable standard.
Whilst speaking to Ali about her experience growing up as the daughter of Pakistani and Fijian-Indian immigrants in South West Sydney, she noted that unlike many others she grew up in a cultural melting pot where the "different" part of her identity was nurtured. Her transition into university life, however, plunged her into the minority lifestyle where lack of diversity and backhanded compliments became the norm. It's in this environment that Ali realised she had to create a space for herself and others like her, and Angrezee with its diverse crew and cast is proof of the brilliance that can come from such a space.
The storyline harbours some extremely key aspects of the immigrant experience, one of which being trying to find the balance between two cultures and trying to create a home within both. The grappling of the two is portrayed through a scene between Fahad and his late wife: Shanzeh, played by Safia Arain, when both discuss how their daughter will be raised and the importance of language.
The scene offers a balance between the two worlds — the world in which it is important to integrate and the world in which it is important to hold onto one's roots. Through the couple's back and forth, we see the weight of both ideals and the fears that come with them but what this scene truly does is push one to the conclusion that the reality must be an amalgamation of both. Finding the balance between two cultures is an ever-changing scale and it is something that will continue to change as each generation chooses which aspects of each culture they want to keep. No experience is void of the systems that benefit from white supremacy and colonisation, but as we create more spaces for ourselves, like Riz Ahmed with The Pillars Art Fellowship, we move one step forward in the right direction.
The transformation of language acquisition through Fahad being engrossed in sitcoms is one that is neatly tied off in the ending scene where he is able to confidently communicate with his daughter's schoolteacher in English. The sense of fulfilment that exudes from this moment reflects back upon the notion that many immigrants simply persevere through their hardships in order to provide a better life for their children. They force themselves to survive, to innovate and grow so that the next generation can prosper and Angrezee portrays this beautifully.
Watch the full film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=_exjklFMpDw
By Asia Khatun