Bend It Like Babes How Bend It Like Beckham influenced a generation

Bend it Like Beckham came to cinemas in Spring 2002. The film was somewhat a rarity, narrating the story of an Indian girl in a British football team. Bend it Like Beckham was, and still is, one of the only mainstream representations of a South Asian girl, and initially rumoured to include a same sex love story between the main characters. Typically girls of colour in film are stereotyped, sidelined and one dimensional, and not only this but when we do see women of colour on film we almost never see queer identities being explored. This film and masculine representations in mainstream media are important to those who may otherwise feel invisible. Here we revisit the film and explore its importance to a group of young QTIPOC.

I remember watching BILB thinking ‘this is basically me tbh’

I remember watching BILB thinking ‘this is basically me tbh’, or at least the nearest thing to ‘me’ I was ever going to see in a mainstream film. I watched it as a little brown tomboy, in my baby blue Tammy tracksuit, in what was a predominantly BME South London locale, and thought to myself 'we made it…it’s official…we exist'. Immediately I knew it wasn’t the perfect representation, but within my community it seemed like an obvious comic exaggeration of stereotypes. There was a fear of misrepresentation, but a joy at representation at all. It still reinforced the 'melancholic migrant' Sarah Ahmed speaks of in her text 'Freedom to be Happy' where she looks at multiple issues faced by migrants in pursuing their own happiness and that of their culture(s). But the Desi in jokes were still much appreciated, and Jess is still the only boyish Indian teen girl I have seen leading a mainstream UK film. It’s been almost 15 years and there's still been nothing similar. It feels like BILB is all we have in the film world sometimes. It was a ‘WOW’ moment, and it’s not perfect, but at least it’s something. The least we can do is revisit, publicise and critique.

When Jess' bestie Tony comes out as queer and she says "but you're Indian!”

I remember being fascinated by the queer aspect of it, even before I knew I was queer and exposed to queerness.  When Jess' bestie Tony comes out as queer and she says "but you're Indian!”, it's jokes because people I know have actually said that to me, like as if being South Asian means you can't be queer. Because of the lack of media you see about queers, in particular queer people of colour, people are conditioned to believe our cultures are more homophobic than white cultures.

I was a baby queer, in my early 20s, and being perceived as a masculine-female person.

I watched the film when it first came out in the early 2000s. I was a baby queer, in my early 20’s, and being perceived as a masculine-female person. I was playing football for Hackney women’s team but I didn’t really take it that seriously. I stood out. I also felt like I didn’t really belong there in a crew of all women. They were predominantly lesbian, and that felt good in some ways, but I didn’t really feel included on account of what I was wearing and also in terms of my gender identity. Watching BILB, I was amazed. A film focusing on Panjabi characters and with a female lead with some sort of queer(ish) storyline. As a Panjabi I appreciated the jokes, and I could relate to both Jess and Tony, which must have influenced my veering towards claiming both masculine and feminine parts of my identity and not trying to fit into either gender category. It is a film I consider instrumental in my finding comfort in my own gender queered self. Years later I started a queer football club and now ten years or so down the line I'm happy masculine-feminine identified.

Photography: Scarlett Shaney Langdon

Art Direction/Styling: Natasha Lall

Make-Up: Umber Ghauri

Models: Krishna Istha, Katy Jalili, Raju Rage & Natasha Lall

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