Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Slumdog kid stars fairly treated?

I'm a huge Slumdog Millionare fan, but I'm starting to question the filmmakers' decisions with the children who starred in the film.

Here's one from MSNBC:

MUMBAI, India - They are not your typical movie stars.

Ten-year-old Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail lives in a lean-to made of tarpaulins and blankets. Nine-year-old Rubina Ali's home is a tiny bubble-gum pink shack. A murky open sewer runs down her narrow lane.

Plucked from one of Mumbai's teeming slums to star in the Oscar-nominated hit "Slumdog Millionaire," they are India's real slumdog millionaires.

...The Oscars will be presented Sunday at Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre. The Fox Searchlight release has grossed more than $100 million, but the children’s lives seem nearly as fragile as before.

“He's supposed to be the hero in the movie, but look how he's living," said Azharuddin's mother, Shameem Ismail, sitting on a rotting board outside their lean-to. "It's a zero."

About 65 million Indians, roughly a quarter of the urban population, live in slums, according to government surveys.

"Most of them are doomed to remain as they are," said Amitabh Kundu, dean of Jawaharlal Nehru University's School of Social Sciences in New Delhi.

It's too early to tell whether Rubina and Azharuddin — Azhar to his friends — will buck the trend.

The filmmakers debated whether to use slum kids at all.

"Part of your brain thinks, would it distort their lives too much?" said Danny Boyle, the British director, by phone from London. "Then someone said, 'These people have so much prejudice against them in their lives. Why should we be prejudiced against them as well?'"

Rubina was cast as the young Latika, who grows up to become the hero's love interest, and Azhar as his brother, Salim.

Boyle and producer Christian Colson figured education was the best way to help Rubina and Azhar. They got them places in Aseema, a nonprofit, English-language school for underprivileged kids in Mumbai.

Some arrive at Aseema with matted hair, never having seen a mirror before. Many need counseling. On one blackboard, the lesson of the day read: "I must close my mouth when I eat."

...The filmmakers also paid the children for 30 days of acting work, give the families a small monthly stipend and set up trust funds that Rubina and Azhar can tap once they graduate.

Colson describes the amount in the trust as substantial, but won't tell anyone how much — not even the parents — for fear of making the kids vulnerable to exploitation.

As the movie's popularity swelled, the filmmakers' plan began to fray.

Journalists swarmed the school, forcing Rubina and Azhar to stay home. The families started demanding more, asking for cash and new houses, Colson said.

When the city razed Azhar's neighborhood, Colson wired the family money for a new home. He doesn't know what happened to the money, but the family remains camped out in a lean-to.

Most troubling, he said, the parents' commitment to seeing their kids through school has waned.

So the filmmakers have agreed to buy apartments and allow the families to move in. But they won't transfer ownership to the parents until Rubina and Azhar finish school at age 18.

The filmmakers have also faced criticism that they didn't fairly compensate the children, but have declined to reveal how much they paid, again citing fear of exploitation.

"It's becoming a full-time job dealing with the daily hassle," Boyle said. Still, he added, "I'm glad we did it, even with all the headache."

He hopes to give Rubina and Azhar an education rather than a jackpot — what he called a "slow nurturing" instead of "a sudden dash for glory."

"Moviemaking is distorting," Boyle said. "The last thing you want to do is turn them into a star."

If they have gotten them out of the slums into an apartment, why can't they really show how much they paid the children and their families?

I'll definitely be watching these developments because if they tried to take advantage of these kids that will totally tick me off.

Anybody else think something's wrong here?


D&L said...

They have a valid point, though. Exploitation would be rampant if they cashed in, and they'd have little protection from it. If the parents misused the money for the house, who's to say that they won't find some way to take the money from the trust fund. The bigger issue is whether the actors will be able to access the trust once they graduate. I don't think the producers need to reveal the amount given, but they should have taken steps to ensure the actors were able to go to the best schools. Better yet, throw some of the profit from the movie into improving conditions in those parts of India.

Rachel said...

idk I think it's an unfortunate situation. But it sounds like either the family was unwise about how the funds they received were spent or it was stolen.

But I think the movie people are trying. Only they know the complete circumstances.