Car drivers, school skivers, money makers.
These are a few of the ‘themes’ that cropped up in Mehreen Baig’s Lost Boys? What’s Going Wrong for Asian Men?, BBC2’s recent exploration of the issues facing young, South Asian men in the UK. The documentary touched on the origins of community values, looked at how the freedoms available to Asian men in the UK grant them less pressure to do well in comparison to their female counterparts and presented issues within the community as a narrative tailored to a white, secular audience.
But one thing that it massively missed was - well, it missed quite a lot.
Many have taken to social media to express their sheer disappointment in the depiction. Lost Boys created something closer to an affirmation of pre-existing negative stereotypes of Asian men, especially because it was told through the lens of an Asian woman.
At no point in her journey through Bradford did Baig speak about the socioeconomic deprivation of areas that were historically ghettoised during mass immigration. She remarked that boys could not see beyond their city, but failed to acknowledge that maybe they did not have the privilege or wealth to do so in the first place.
Parts of the documentary portrayed young Asian men as inherently sexist for living at home, where domestic duties were still done by their mothers. But realistically, it’s a miracle for many working class 20-somethings to be able to even consider living alone. I’m a 21-year-old, recent graduate and still unemployed - where can I get a house? Of course, young white men would never let their mothers touch their dirty laundry and must be able to afford to live alone no matter their financial circumstances - if the documentary is to be believed.
While the programme was clearly trying to present a story about issues within South Asian groups, it doesn’t seem fair to offer these as conclusive portrayals of our community. Unlike Baig’s suggestions, many of us don’t need to sit in a pub to assimilate and be considered as progressive.
It’s frustrating to see documentaries fall short of doing anything other than glossing over surface views, often perpetuated by a white narrative, and then reinforced by someone who looks like the rest of us and therefore is entitled to speak for that community.
Here’s a small tip to documentary producers: why not give the narrative to the people you are trying so hard to narrate? Why was it not an Asian man who had lived these experiences presenting this documentary?
It seems that documentary makers can, sometimes, end up doing the exact opposite of what they set out to do and in the process, drown out the voices that needed to be heard.