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Monmouth’s World Cinema Series Presents: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

On Thursday, Feb. 22 in Pollak Theater, students, faculty and members of the Monmouth community gathered for a screening of The Reluctant Fundamentalist as part of the World Cinema Series hosted by Thomas Pearson Ph.D., a professor of History and Anthropology.

The focus of this year’s World Cinema Series is on the roots, ethics and impact of global capitalism, which the film checked all the boxes for.

From Lahore, Pakistan to the United States, Changez Khan, played by Riz Ahmed, is chasing the American dream by working with a consulting firm on Wall Street.

However, with a culmination of events including 9/11 and a hostage crisis, Khan’s dream is put on hold.

Khan’s difficult journey tackles important issues such as corporations’ little care for employees, nationalism and prejudice, but with so much stuff happening it’s difficult to feel the weight of the messages.

The consulting firm Khan works for sends their employees to different companies to assess how they can better maximize company or shareholder wealth.

If you work at a company and see Khan walk through workplace, you may have to look at the classifieds during your lunch break.

Although Khan is helping companies gain profits by suggesting different approaches to conducting their business, it comes at the price of people losing their jobs.

By the stroke of a pen, Khan has to power send workers out the door, but clearly he did not take Operations Management.

Instead of leaving hundreds of people unemployed, Khan should make suggestions as to how a company can retrain and relocate employees to a different jobs within.

While Khan sends people packing, he finds himself moving up the corporate ladder.

As Bruce Springsteen sings in Jack of All Trades, “The banking man grows fat / Working man grows thin/It’s all happened before / And it will happen again.”

The Khans of the world help companies watch their profits grow, while laid-off workers watch their livelihoods sink. Until the day consultants put ethics before profit, it’ll happen again.

It may sound like Khan is living the American dream by making tons of cash in his position, but money can’t buy the way you’re treated for the color of your skin.

Following 9/11, America becomes a hostile environment where Middle Eastern citizens are wrongfully detained.

Khan experiences it first hand, when he is stopped at an airport and subjected to a strip search.

While Khan is stripped down to nothing for his country, it’s upsetting to see how xenophobic America was following the terrorist attacks.

Unfortunately, the xenophobia is still prevalent in American society.

For those accustomed to wearing a hijab or any other kind of traditional outfit, they experience regular judgement or injustice because of their backgrounds.

People don’t pick who to be prejudice towards. It doesn’t matter how deep your pockets are or the influence you have in a company; the color of your skin can automatically change the way people think of you.

Despite the way he is treated in America, Khan is one who still loves the red, white and blue.

However, this presents a problem with nationalism.

Which culture should Khan be more proud of: his Pakistani roots or American success?

There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. If you don’t have the skin color of a “true American,”  you’re not patriotic enough.

Considering all the points director Mira Nair tries to get across, it’s difficult to feel the impact while there’s so much else going on.

While addressing these topics, there’s supposed to be a thrilling aspect where Khan is helping to save a hostage who only has 24-hours to live.

With all the flashbacks, along with a long-winded and dull relationship Khan has with a photographer, played by Kate Hudson, the messages aren’t delivered effectively.

Instead of dedicating a lot of time into Khan’s lackluster romance, the film could’ve focused more on the heavy issues.

Following the film, Pearson as well as Nancy Uddin Ph.D., an associate professor of accounting, engaged in a discussion with the audiences about the important topics in The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

The host, Dr. Pearson noted, “there are people who have lived in many places who aren’t reduced to one national identity. Following 9/11, culture was polarizing.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Uddin, addressed the, “different levels of fundamentalism in business [which may lead to] a negative experience.”

Additionally, Dr. Uddin discussed how the film personally affected her as a Muslim from South Asia living in America.

She appreciated how the film looked at both sides on the issues of capitalism, patriotism and nationalism.

The conversation following the screening was a perfect opportunity for the audience to dissect the lofty topics covered.

The next film in the World Cinema Series is an Asian film,  Mountains May Depart, which will be screened in Pollak Theater on Tuesday, March 20 at 7:30 p.m.