If you had to choose a book/movie/podcast/TV show/song or another piece of art to provide a window into your culture to others around the world, what would it be, and why?
To celebrate World Day for Cultural Diversity, we asked Aperian Global’s colleagues from around the world this question – and here are their responses.
Bombay Begums – This Netflix series portrays the life of five Indian women, all from different walks of life, and all the challenges and complexities of being a woman in urban India. By the end of the series, irrespective of where one comes from, it is impossible not to feel like there is a part of us in each of the characters.
Slumdog Millionaire – Based on a true story, this movie brought people from all over the world to the streets of India. It won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Hotel Mumbai – A riveting movie recounting the 2008 terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai. There is a lot of violence, so it may not be for everyone; that said, there are also many incidents of heroism and bravery that show people can rise above their fears.
God of Small Things – A novel by Arundhati Roy. Set in Kerala in a Syrian Christian family, this book sheds some light on many social issues of the time. The book jumps back and forth between two periods. I wonder, sometimes, if people outside of my culture would understand many of the subtle nuances in daily life. It can be considered a slow read, as the ideas take time to set in our minds.
Lipstick Under my Burkha – This 2016 movie shows the secret lives of four women who are in search of their freedom. Even after facing all the odds and obstacles in their way, they still manage to find their way to claim their desires through small acts of courage.
Lagaan – This 2001 movie is set during the “British Raj” (British rule) and has a lot of real-life historic moments in it with real-life bits as well. It shows a tiny part of where India came from and what its people are made of.
“The Better India” – This is how this website/social account describes itself: “The Better India is a catalyst of social change, which leverages the power of positive stories to inspire actions.”
Bombay – A movie about a Hindu man who marries a Muslim woman against their parents’ will and elope to Mumbai; years later, they get caught in the Mumbai riots that followed the demolition of the Babri Mosque. Religious violence escalated and left many people dead. This is a movie that highlights the worst and best of Indian society.
Hum aapke hain kaun – Weddings are a big part of Indian culture; celebrations continue for many days (sometimes even a week). This movie – where the lead pair comes together to celebrate their siblings’ wedding – was the biggest wedding film ever.
Shantaram – This novel by Gregory David Roberts is “old but gold.” It perfectly captures the buzz, highs, and lows of life in urban and rural India (mostly Mumbai).
Lion – An Oscar-nominated film based on the true story of an Indian boy (Saroo) who was adopted by Australians. Depicts the real India and heartbreaking truths about families that live below the poverty line.
Anything the author Alfian Sa’at writes. Provocative, real, and raw—he captures emotions and history of the Singapore context perfectly always challenging inequality and the status quo.
Little Women – This coming-of-age book by Louisa May Alcott is about the lives of four sisters in Civil War-era Massachusetts; I think it can resonate with a lot of women around the world.
This American Life – This long-running (20 years) podcast out of Chicago, Illinois offers up compelling stories featuring everyday people from diverse cultures and viewpoints in the United States.
I went with five movies from my five favorite contemporary American filmmakers as my choices to represent the country. If you watch these, I think you’ll get a good sense of what this country is as I’ve experienced it.
Educated – This memoir by Tara Westover, was selected as one of The New York Times Best Books of 2018. The author recounts her life growing up in a Morman family isolated in the mountains of Idaho. With no formal education, she is miraculously accepted into college and learns of major historical events for the first time as a young adult, such as the Civil Rights Movement. It’s a story about the power of education, perseverance and the urban-rural divide America has experienced for centuries.
Pretty much anything that film documentarian Ken Burns has produced. Burns has a knack for storytelling and bringing in multiple voices & perspectives that capture the good, bad, and ugly of the United States:
Hong Kong has a very unique culture that is rooted in Chinese culture and hugely influenced by the Western world, transforming it into something of its very own.
Stephen Chow’s movies – Stephen Chow is the most iconic figure in Hong Kong comedy movies; his films represent the golden period of Hong Kong in the 90s with a signature “nonsensical” style.
Wong Kar-wai’s movies – Wong is one of the most well-recognized Hong Kong directors, with “poetic moods and music, narrative and stylistic daring, and potent themes of alienation and memory.” He is especially good at capturing Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s.
Jin Yong’s novels – Jin Yong wrote a total of 15 wuxia (martial heroes) masterpieces from the 1950s to the 1970s. His novels shared a lot of Chinese philosophies and insights into the dynamic cultures of China and religion. He also used the novels as a reflection of the Chinese dark ages in the 1960s (the Cultural Revolution).
Cantopop music – Hong Kong pop music is heavily influenced by the US, UK, Japan, and Korea, with the lyrics reflecting the social-economic situation in Hong Kong.
Amelie Poulain (The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain) – This movie by Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is about a young Paris-based waitress named Amelie who decides to help people find happiness. Her quest to spread joy leads her on a journey where she finds true love.
The Intouchables – A hit movie about the unusual friendship which develops when Driss, a street-smart immigrant, is hired to take care of Philippe, a quadriplegic French nobleman.
Good Bye, Lenin! – This is a movie about the former “East & West Germany” divide; Alex and his family continue to pretend communism still reigns in Berlin for their grandmother, who was in a coma when the revolution (reunification) took place.
Central Station (Central do Brasil) – In this movie, bitter former schoolteacher Dora supports herself by taking dictation from illiterate people in Rio de Janeiro who want to write letters to their families, and then pocketing their money without ever mailing the envelopes. One day, Josue, the 9-year-old son of one of her clients, is left alone when his mother is killed in a bus accident. Reluctantly taking him in, Dora joins the boy on a road trip to find his long-missing father.
A Dog’s Will (O Alto da Compadecida) – Set in the impoverished, dry, and deserted region of Northeast Brazil, this film follows two friends trying to get by using their wits and silver tongue: the lively Jack and the cowardly Chicó. The two men work as assistants to the local baker and get wrapped up in several misadventures. The movie is ostensibly a comedy, playing on several archetypes from Brazil’s Northeast region, and also has some supernatural elements.
Ó Pai Ó (Look at This) – In Salvador’s historic center, a diverse group of tenement residents use their creativity, passion, and wits to make Carnival a celebration for all. They live in a dump, but they know how to make their own fun. All a party needs are good music and wild guests.
Aquarela do Brasil (Samba) – Samba is a Brazilian music genre that originated in the Afro-Brazilian communities of Rio De Janeiro in the early 20th century. Having its roots in the cultural expression of West Africa and in Brazilian folk traditions (especially those linked to the primitive rural samba of the colonial and imperial periods) it is considered one of the most important cultural phenomena in Brazil. The song I’ve chosen is one of the very famous samba songs; it talks about the diversity and beauties of Brazil.
Garota de Ipanema (Bossa Nova) – Bossa nova, (“new trend” in Portugese) is Brazilian popular music that evolved in the late 1950s from a union of samba and cool jazz. The song I chose is one of the most popular songs of this genre and talks about the beauty of a woman walking by the Ipanema beach.
Olodum – This cultural group developed activism to combat social discrimination, boost the self-esteem and pride of Afro-Brazilians, and defend and fight to secure civil and human rights for marginalized people in Bahia and Brazil. It developed a social project called Escola Olodum (Olodum School). Fun fact: Michael Jackson recorded the video clip of They Don’t Care About Us in Brazil and Olodum participated.
Rap da Felicidade (Funk) – Funk carioca was popularized in the 1980s in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, the city’s predominantly Afro-Brazilian slums. From the mid-1990s on, it was a mainstream phenomenon in Brazil. Funk songs discuss topics as varied as poverty, human dignity, racial pride of black people, sex, violence, and social injustice. Translation of this song.
The Slum (O Cortiço) – This influential Brazilian novel was written in 1890 by Aluísio Azevedo. It depicts a part of Brazil’s culture in the late nineteenth century, represented by a variety of colorful characters living in a single Rio de Janeiro tenement.
The Decline and Fall of Policarpo Quaresma – A story of a man, Policarpo Quaresma, who loved his country of Brazil “not wisely, but too well”—not unlike his creator, Lima Barreto. Barreto had enormous empathy for the poor and the downtrodden; a mulatto himself, he’d originally intended to write a history of black slavery in Brazil, and he wasn’t afraid to unmask the pretensions and arrogance of those in power.
The Motorcycle Diaries – A film adaptation of the written work of the then 23-year-old Ernesto Guevara, who would several years later become internationally known as the iconic Marxist guerrilla leader and revolutionary “Che” Guevara. Directed by Walter Salles, with locations in Argentina and throughout South America.
White Elephant – An acclaimed Argentinian film. In it, two priests, the old veteran Father Julián and his new, younger Belgian colleague Father Nicolás—along with the social worker Luciana—work in a “villa miseria” in Buenos Aires known as Ciudad Oculta. Together they fight to resolve the issues of the neighborhood’s society. Their work has them face clerical hierarchy, organized crime, and oppression, risking their lives as they defend their commitment and loyalty towards the people of the neighborhood.
American Factory – This documentary movie followed the workers and managers in a shuttered General Motors plant in Ohio as it was re-opened into a Chinese-owned glass factory. Two cultures collide in the process; they struggle to find cross-cultural understanding and to withstand the pressure of a highly competitive, global industry.
The Last Emperor – An Academy Award-winning biographical drama film, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. It’s about the life of Puyi, the last Emperor of China, following him from a lavish youth in the Forbidden City; he was afforded every luxury but was unfortunately sheltered from the outside world and complex political situation surrounding him. As the revolution sweeps through China, the world Pu-Yi knew is dramatically upended.
Beyond the Mountains – A documentary that follows a Nanjing-based Japanese director who visits a minority ethnic group living in a remote and hidden place called Daliang Mountain in Sichuan province. It shows a very different aspect of China.