IC Lecture: Bend it Like Beckham

Humanities Faculty Explains Immigrant Experience behind Popular British Film

PROVO, Utah (March 18, 2014)— The popular 2002 British film Bend it Like Beckham, which was Britain’s highest grossing film until Slumdog Millionaire in 2009, was the subject of this week’s International Cinema lecture. Marlene Hansen Esplin, assistant professor of Interdisciplinary Humanities said, “While on the surface level this is a humorous, light-hearted romantic comedy, it’s also a very self-conscious drama that engages pressing questions about orthodoxy, changing women’s roles in traditional cultures and the immigrant experience.”

The film tells the story of Jess Bhamra, an 18-year old British Indian who wants nothing more than to play soccer professionally. Unfortunately, her parents want Jess to become a traditional Indian housewife. Keira Knightley plays an early role as Jules, an upper middle-class girl, who helps Jess realize her soccer dreams.

Although the film focuses on Jess’s experience of confronting gender roles in traditional Indian culture, other characters’ stories address equally relevant issues. Jess’s friend Tony struggles with same-sex attraction within traditional Indian culture, Jess’s dad confronts his haunting past of racial discrimination, and Jules mother has to understand that professional soccer could be a proper vocation for a woman. As Esplin pointed out, the title, Bend it Like Beckham, a reference to the way soccer star David Beckham bends his kick, becomes a metaphor for the way in which these characters must bend the “social structure” to reach their dreams.

The film’s focus on the immigrant experience is becoming more relevant as the UK becomes a melting pot of immigrant cultures. Currently, British Asians are the largest minority population in the UK.. From the growing popularity of Indian food to the presence of Indian culture in the language, Indians have a distinct place in British society. As Esplin noted, Indian immigration in the UK is somewhat analogous to the Hispanic immigration situation in the US, which has similarly infiltrated American language, food, and culture.

Bend it Like Beckham is a part of International Cinema’s Women’s History Month and Soccer series. The film will be playing at International Cinema until Saturday, March 22. For listings of other International Cinema films playing this semester, please view the schedule here.

–Ami Johanson B.A. Humanities '14