Editorial | We need to look critically at the media we consume

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

“RRR” is the third-largest-grossing Indian film in history and reached Netflix’s Top 10 in 62 countries, making it one of the widest reaching movies of the year. It’s receiving praise as award season gears up, and rightfully so, but there is an added layer to the plot that many viewers are overlooking.

Although “RRR” explores India pre-independence and embeds themes of anti-colonialism, the storyline doesn’t champion all Indians in their fight for freedom. Muslim representation in the film is sorely lacking, considering there are no Muslim characters. Historically, Muslim freedom fighters played a significant role in India’s liberation from British power.   

Under the dominant right-wing Hindu nationalist government, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, the priorities of the Hindu population take precedence over all other groups. As a result, the Muslim population, consisting of more than two million people, is increasingly oppressed and stigmatized. And because of the attitudes of the national government, Muslim representation — and representation that is accurate — in Tollywood movies is almost nonexistent, and is an indicator of a larger issue in India.   

In recent years, Modi’s government passed amendments to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act that made the path for citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan easier. As you can see, Muslims are excluded from the government’s consideration. Legislation like this and growing animosity toward Muslim minorities have created dangerous and at times violent conditions under the populist government rule. 

Now, “RRR” did not create the caste system that oppresses Muslim minorities, but it does nothing to change the narrative. And considering millions, if not billions, of people around the world have viewed this movie, there is something to say about consuming media that discreetly promotes cultural nationalism. 

Additionally, the film “Parasite,” which received substantial praise during the 2020 Academy Awards, and “Squid Game”— which both provide commentary on the social and economic tensions in South Korea — were also culturally misunderstood. Despite both pieces of media also receiving praise from Western audiences, the artistry and entertainment aspects of the show and film were given more consideration and attention than the underlying theme.

Even within American culture, audiences can overlook the more nuanced aspects or messages of a film — even when they appear glaringly. “American Psycho” is making waves on TikTok where people, mainly women, are criticizing men for their blind love and romanticization of the book and movie’s main character, Patrick Bateman. The satire portrays a homicidal, high-powered man who gets away with much more than he should. This elite prowess excites some men, but leaves the book and film’s commentary on male fragility and apathy grossly overlooked. 

All of this to say that even within American media, people need to develop a better critical lens. Without the ability to recognize the underlying theme and message of a film or show, we interpret media at a surface level without understanding the sometimes far-reaching consequences of that media. 

This editorial is not to dissuade you from consuming media — instead, it is a message of encouragement to take a critical lens to the media you consume. Ignorance spreads when ideas and narratives exist in a vacuum, so opening up media to analysis and looking for deeper meaning will give us not only a global perspective, but an empathic one, too.