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‘Monkey Man’ Reactions Point To New Peak Of South Asian Representation

“Guys, where is Dev Patel? Is he okay?”

This is the enigma of a concerned, very apt Alexa Shoen in December of last year. 

“Why is he noticeably absent from cinema? He should’ve been in Barbie; he should’ve been in Wonka. Bring back Dev Patel!”

‘Monkey Man’ Reactions Point to a New Peak Of South Asian Representation in Hollywood
Monkey Man / Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

It turns out, this was the right question. Despite starring in Wes Anderson’s Oscar-winning short-film adaptations of Roald Dahl’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Poison, Dev Patel has been “noticeably absent from cinema.” His most recent feature film was David Lowery’s A24 hit, The Green Knight, almost 3 years ago, putting him where we last saw him right at the peak of his and A24’s career, as they released Everything, Everywhere, All At Once a few months later, catapulting the indie movie renaissance into motion. Patel was set to be a recurring face in this newly-funded industry, despite already being an Oscar-nominee, alongside others like Timothee Chalamet, Saoirse Ronan, and Florence Pugh as they reaped the benefits of the indie-movie acclaim train. 

So what was he doing? Secretly trying to earn the rank of “Best Indian in Hollywood ®” by plummeting into the world of directing! And on March 11, 2024; Dev Patel introduced the world to his Jordan Peele produced directorial debut Monkey Man, an action movie authored by and starring him, at SXSW. The trailer, which (at the time of publication) has already amassed 17M views on YouTube and was advertised on a primetime trailer spot at the 2024 Super Bowl, showcases an impressive understanding of the genre. The lighting, choreography, and stunt choreography is so good that it’s already being compared to Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves’ top-notch John Wick series. 

“Not to be dramatic, but I’m pretty sure I just witnessed history in the making last night at [SXSW] at the world premiere of Monkey Mansays Shiv Reddy, a South Asian-American Journalist who, enamored by the number of South Asians premiering their films this year (Lilly Singh’s Doin’ It, Roshan Sethi’s A Nice Indian Boy, Iram Parveen Bilal’s Wakhri, among others), took it upon herself to see this phenomenon for herself by self-funding an entire trip to Texas to do press for the SXSW film festival. 

“I was one of the only people that immediately shot up out of my seat,” Reddy continues, “because what this man has done for cultural representation is beyond commendable.”

‘Monkey Man’ Reactions Point to a New Peak Of South Asian Representation in Hollywood
Monkey Man / Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The title of the movie itself references Hanuman, the Hindu deity from ‘The Ramayana,’ who symbolizes evergreen loyalty and staying calm, yet vigilant and brave, in the face of adversity. And reportedly, the film lets you know it. 

“I don’t even think the cultural context of this film allows for it to go over your head. It kind of hits you straight in the face, consistently, throughout the film. Reminding you that The Ramayana is the inspirational thread behind this story. The titular character, Hanuman, is the driving force behind Kid’s [Dev Patel] courage and, inevitably, what gets him to the level of rage that he exudes.”

As a Hindu myself, we have been severely misrepresented in the media, both artistically and socially. Just last year, no one batted an eye (largely due to India’s absence from TikTok) at Cillian Murphy’s titular character in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer reading the Bhagavad Gita while having sex. While some argue that it was harmless, they most likely aren’t taking into consideration how Indians are, and have been, perceived outside of India. This perpetuation of Indians has been a long and irritating discourse and is largely the fault of our lack of perception towards the global media. The growth in American populations in the past twenty years has only made eradicating passive racism against Indians a more urgent matter. 

Fortunately, blowing the haters away is part of the motivating factor for a lot of Indians, and Dev Patel certainly blew me away by being one of them. From Reddy’s description, Patel used this opportunity and platform to add every topic he could and needed to elevate this film in a mature and incentivizing way. From politics about casteism to politics about Muslims, Dev Patel bridges the gaps between America, India, and their respective film industries so well that I expect this movie to be the first of its kind to achieve this success. This makes Monkey Man the moment that South Asian American filmmakers have been waiting for, forever.

‘Monkey Man’ Reactions Point to a New Peak Of South Asian Representation in Hollywood
Monkey Man / Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

“Using a gory, action, violence flick that global audiences will absolutely eat up is one of the smartest ways to influence people to understand these systems of oppression that exist in India that prevent these people from rising up in society, living normal lives, and earning a livable wage.”

And I wholeheartedly agree. Dev Patel is in this league of his own where he has the privilege to make something like this happen. It’s many Brown filmmakers’ dream for all four of these industries and audiences to align so well for our own film, mine well-included, in an attempt to appeal to as many people as possible. Dev’s household name status granted him the privilege to explore what Hollywood has to offer theatrically, and he is the first Indian-American in history to use that privilege to, not only, pay homage to Indian cinema, but captivate Indian and American audiences in a massively-appealing way.

“I know that Monkey Man will go down in history for cultural representation, but I really hope that so many young, Brown filmmakers look to Dev Patel as an inspiration, as someone who took their passion for something, took a risk, seized the opportunity, and is now proving to studios why diverse storytelling matters.”

I am, Shiv. I am.

Monkey Man / Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Monkey Man / Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Monkey Man is directed by, written by, and stars Dev Patel. The film follows an anonymous young man who unleashes a campaign of vengeance against the corrupt leaders who murdered his mother. It releases in US theatres on April 5, 2024. All images used are courtesy of Universal Pictures

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Based in Chicago, Illinois. An aspiring singer and director, Bhargav is currently pursuing his undergrad in Marketing, Information & Decision Sciences, and Film in Chicago. Since co-founding Feature First, Bhargav focuses on industry analyses, box office reports, quality movie reviews, and helping maintain consumer engagement across all social platforms.