WATCH — Deepa Mehta on creator culture, Funny Boy and controversy

Saara Chaudry
Story by Saara Chaudry and CBC Kids News • 2020-12-04 14:00

Rapid-fire questions with Oscar nominee

How do you have an impact in a world where everybody and their dog is churning out content?

You use your platform to ask questions.

That’s how Oscar-nominated filmmaker Deepa Mehta put it when asked to share some words of wisdom with the next generation of content creators.

“Curiosity is what drives all creativity,” the Canadian screenwriter, director and producer told CBC Kids News.

“Always ask why,” Mehta said, because it's only when we go searching for answers “that we discover not only something about the world, but also about ourselves.”

Mehta’s new film Funny Boy has been chosen as Canada's submission for the Oscars’ best international film category.

The PG-rated movie premieres on CBC Gem and CBC-TV on Dec. 4 at 8 p.m.

Are you an aspiring YouTuber? Click play to get more tips from an Oscar nominee:

Funny Boy sparks controversy

Funny Boy is based on a book by Canadian author Shyam Selvadurai about a Sri Lankan boy who comes out as gay.

It’s also about violence between Hindu Tamil and Buddhist Sinhalese people, and a push for Tamils to create their own country in the 1970s and 1980s.

Some people have criticized Mehta for not casting more Tamil actors in lead roles in the movie.

Tweet from Abby C. Kumar says disappointed that Funny Boy has cast a bunch of non-Tamils in a film about trauma within living memory of Sri Lankan Tamils. And they're all way more light-skin than your average Tamil. Feels like we're being erased from our own history. Feels wrong.

In response to that criticism, Mehta asked people to watch the movie before they judge it.

People of colour often star in her movies

She said she’s devoted much of her career to creating space for people of colour in the movie industry.

“My films speak for themselves.”

Women in saris burn effigy of Deepa Mehta on the ground.

Deepa Mehta is used to controversy. In 2000, a group of women in Calcutta, India, burned a sculpture that looked like Mehta as a way to protest her Oscar-nominated film, Water. (Image credit: Reuters)

She also said doesn’t believe in tokenism, which means doing something because you want to look good — not because you actually believe in it.

In the context of the movie business, that might mean casting somebody from a minority group just so that you can say that you did it — not because they’re the best person for the role.

On the search for Tamil actors to play lead roles

The lead Tamil role in Funny Boy is played by a theatre actor from Sri Lanka named Brandon Ingram, who recently came out as gay. He isn’t Tamil.

Mehta said she searched around the world for Tamil actors to fill that role.

Brandon Ingram, left, plays the main character in Funny Boy and Rehan Mudannayake, right, plays his love interest. (Image credit: Funny Boy/Hamilton-Mehta Productions)

She said she found two, but one was unable to get permission to travel to Sri Lanka for the project and another dropped out due to family issues.

Mehta said half of the rest of the cast is Tamil.

She also said some of the Tamil dialogue was re-recorded before the movie was released to make sure it was correct.

What kind of YouTuber would Mehta be?

Other questions Mehta answers in this video:

With files from Jackson Weaver/CBC News
TOP IMAGE CREDIT: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images, graphic design by Philip Street/CBC

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About the Contributor

Saara Chaudry
Saara Chaudry
CBC Kids News Contributor
Saara is passionate about having a positive impact on the world, whether it's within her community, on the big screen, or in her role as a CBC Kids News contributor. The Grade 12 student from Toronto played Little Cosette in Les Miserables, Howie on Max & Shred, Dana's older sister on Dino Dana, and Martina Crowe on The Mysterious Benedict Society. Outside of film and media, Saara is an award-winning international debater and public speaker. She is the current Ontario Debate and Public Speaking Champion. She is also a vociferous advocate for gender and racial equality, as well as girls' education. Saara was recently appointed a UNICEF Canada Youth Advocate in 2020.

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