Regardless of whether you think Slumdog Millionaire deserves to be considered a masterpiece of pseudo-magical realism or an orientalist nod to middlebrow convention, there’s no denying that the performances by the two trios of young actors are pretty extraordinary. The young Latika, Jamal, and Salim carried the film to unconventional heights of pathos, and for this it’s no surprise that the film’s adventure through the award show circuit has been tainted by controversy over the treatment and compensation of the young actors who remain residents of the poorest parts of Mumbai.
Their journey will come to a climax this weekend, as it has been announced that two of the young actors will be on the red carpet for this Sunday’s Oscars.
This comes with a particular feeling that movie lovers seldom experience at the Academy Awards — as much as “gritty” films like Slumdog are sometimes praised for the glimpse they provide into a distant reality, it is rare that viewers then get a non-fiction perspective as well, minus the romantic Danny Boyle angles. And as as much as we’re rooting for the film as a whole, and excited about how cute we know they’ll look, we think it’s important to not add them to the greater Slumdog fantasy on Oscar night and remember they’re on the real-life side of the film’s experience.
Young Salim, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, and his co-stars are far from millionaires, and although filmmakers have countered controversy by insisting that they’ve all been provided with a trust-fund, a monthly stipend, and school tuition, their living conditions are far from optimal. When we read that we’d get a chance to see them at the Oscars this Sunday, we got all excited — we’re pretty in love with the Slumdog cast, and think the kids were the best part. But after reading about twenty different news stories about the different ways the Oscars are pulling out all the stops in order to get more viewers, and topped them off with the AP story about the lives of the young Slumdog locals and their families, we felt pretty pathetic.
They’re adorable, yes, but they’re not movie stars. But they’re not charity cases either. It will be interesting to see how coverage of their presence balances this. We just hope they have an amazing time.