Slumdog kids remain slumdogs, even after runaway success of movie

We’re currently in the throes of an economic recession, and while belts are tightening, it’s getting tougher and tougher to keep things in perspective. For those able to shell out a disposable $10, the movies provide a pretty nice option for momentary distraction from certain economic realities. For many this past winter, Slumdog Millionaire was precisely the kind of feel-good cinema to which we all turned.

To say the film made a splash at the Oscar’s would be an understatement, as its eight golden statues can attest. But arguably the biggest splash the film made was on the lives of its cast – specifically, Rubina Ali (Latika), Azharuddin Ismail (Salim), and the other young actors.

In the weeks surrounding the film’s U.K. and U.S. debuts, and during the awards ceremonies, these kids were exposed to whirlwinds of material success. They walked red carpets, mingled with Hollywood greats, slept in lavish hotels, and even visited Disneyland. Sounds like an incredible experience.

Where are they now, though?

Unfortunately, these kids are now back in the types of Mumbai slums depicted in the film, living in conditions that make you seriously reconsider your definition of economic “hard times.” In a recent ABC piece, Rubina stated, “I don’t want to sleep on the floor anymore. I want a proper bed. … I have seen what it is like in America. Here, there is garbage everywhere, people get angry, swear and shout. I have realized how bad life is here. I just want to get out.”

At time of publication, Slumdog has grossed over $213 million worldwide. Rubina was paid £500 for her work in the film, while Azharuddin netted about £1700. Compare that to 11-year-old Dakota Fanning’s $3 million-per-movie salary.

While I’m not saying that anyone should pull a Robin Hood heist of Fanning and provide for the kids of Slumdog, I am upset by the movie studio’s lack of conscience in exposing these kids to such heights of wealth, only to return them to such pits of squalor.

The film’s director, Danny Boyle, has responded to such criticisms by developing a trust fund for the child actors. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but it falls far short of ideal. One condition of the trust fund is that the kids can only receive its money provided that they finish school – a condition that is tragically easier said than done in the Mumbai slums.

Also, for what reason should Boyle and others provide for solely their child stars? Why not help aid the entire region, in which the average annual adult salary is around £600? Or how about something radical: instead of billing the movie as simply a “feel-good” hit, how about using its mass appeal to raise awareness for a truly humanitarian cause?

In our recession it’s difficult to consider sacrificing monetarily in the name of others, but should temporary salary lessening justify such an egregious neglect on our – and Hollywood’s – parts?

Nick Moran is a junior majoring in English.

April 5, 2009


Nick Moran

Contributing Columnist

ONE COMMENT ON THIS POST To “Slumdog kids remain slumdogs, even after runaway success of movie”

  1. Kelly says:

    I thought the same thing– it seems like the height of hypocrisy to award the director/producers but not the actors who made it possible, especially when those child actors are so vulnerable and do not have anyone representing their interests. I don’t understand why they weren’t compensated more fairly; it seems like just because they are non-white children who come from poverty, it gives wealthy westerners permission to take advantage of their situation. Where is the outrage? Why aren’t more people upset about this? The movie was based on, and highlighted, the horrible conditions in the slums, so why shouldn’t at least some of the proceeds go towards raising awareness and education options for those children?

    I don’t think we can call this a “feel-good” movie when absolutely nothing good has come out of it for those whose lives it depicts.

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