Films that made me: My Big Fat Greek Wedding
For a lot of Indian people, because of the lack of representation on TV and in film, we often turn to representations of other cultures to find similarities and parallels. It’s the reason a lot of brown people love watching ‘black’ sitcoms, because having a cousin come and live with you for an extended period of time is far more realistic than going out with a palaeontologist and inheriting a flat in the heart of NYC.
I don’t know how it happened, but My Big Fat Greek Wedding became the holy grail of funny films within my family, with my cousins and I still quote from it in everyday conversation. So why did this seemingly average film become so vital to my life? Well, for starters, it was one of the first films ever to accurately represent what it is like to live in a family that I recognised as similar to mine. Unlike most films, it actually places some value on extended family; cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces- people who are so essential to the everyday life of a lot of Indians, but rarely feature in films the way this film did. From the loud cousins to the aunt who overshares, the parallels between this Greek family and a lot of Indian families has made it a favourite within our community.
The main story arc which runs throughout the film is how ‘Toula’ feels like the black sheep of the family. Her immigrant parents put heavy emphasis on the traditions of marriage and motherhood and it’s not something Toula fits into naturally. They also want her to marry a ‘nice, Greek boy’ but when Toula falls for a *pause for shock* white man, it all turns a bit chaotic. What Toula’s character encapsulates so well is what many people of my generation feel. It explores what it is like to live up to familial expectations which are heavily entwined with culture and tradition, whilst trying to integrate with the western society you are growing up in. The way Toula hides her relationship from her parents mirrors how almost every asian person I know keeps their relationships secret from their parents, until things get serious or sometimes even when you’re ready to walk down the aisle. It was the first time I’d seen this plot in a film and it provided some laugh out loud moments for the pure accuracy.
This film gets it so right about growing up in an immigrant family in so many other ways, too. From highlighting the big charade when it comes to weddings, the dynamic of a well meaning but invasive family set up, the generosity and struggle that has come from immigrant parents and trying to understand the way white people work. In fact, one of my favourite scenes is when Toula meets Ian, her boyfriends, parents. It’s a scene almost void of dialogue as she sits in their big house, in which only the four of them sit. This is then juxtaposed by when Ian and his family come to meet Toula’s big fat Greek family. His only two close relatives have a complete shock when they’re greeted by dozens of Toula’s family who get them drunk, overfeed them with spit-roasted meat and engage them in conversation from all angles. For me, these two scenes really highlight just how far apart your worlds can be when you’re living in an immigrant family. Sometimes you’ll be brunching and afternoon tea-ing and other times you’ll be dancing all night with your cousins in a marquee in your back garden.
For me it was so refreshing seeing things like this being represented on screen and I haven’t had a whole lot of films that have done this for me in an accurate way since. It’s a shame I still have to cling onto this film as one of the only solid representations I see myself in, as it came out in 2002, nearly 18 years ago. It just goes to show how needed it is for more diverse stories to be commissioned and perhaps we can cut down on the period drama remakes the film industry keep churning out.