Embracing A Multicultural “Super Team”

In November 2015, Pixar released its first Indian-themed animated short called “Sanjay’s Super Team”. The story depicts a young boy, Sanjay, who is engrossed in watching a superhero television show while his father urges him to join in on his traditional Indian prayers. Sanjay appears unamused and bored to take part in these rituals, and his gravitation towards American superheroes demonstrates his longing for assimilation to typical American culture. Ultimately, his imagination runs free as he is sucked into the world of evil spirits and three protective Hindu gods. In order to escape from the evil creature, Sanjay uses his superhero action figure to ring the prayer bell, allowing his two worlds to collide. Once returning to reality, Sanjay’s father appears disappointed with Sanjay’s lack of appreciation for Indian culture. However, the story concludes with Sanjay drawing a picture of the three Hindu gods watching over his superhero, labelling them as “Sanjay’s Super Team”.

This storyline greatly parallels Zitkala-Ša’s American Indian Stories, in which Zitkala-Ša struggled with finding her identity in a time period in which white missionaries strived to strip Native Americans of their culture. Both Sanjay and Zitkala-Ša’s childhood experiences depict their conflict with multiculturalism in an American culture that often strives for similarity. In Keywords for Children’s Literature, Debra Dudek describes multiculturalism as having progressed from “a racist ideology of assimilation to an ideology of tolerance“ (156). Zitkala-Ša’s experience at a Native American boarding school displays the emphasis on assimilation in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Initially, she is enticed by the “beautiful country” (83) that the paleface missionaries spoke about but she eventually finds that she “no longer felt free to be [her]self” (86) in school. In contrast, Sanjay’s preference for assimilation is not overtly due to white persuasion, but instead caused by an internal desire to follow the norm in American society. Both Zitkala-Ša and Sanjay’s parents encourage them to embrace their multiculturalism and avoid conformity. Zitkala-Ša’s mother clearly disapproves of her continued education in college without staying true to her roots (101) just as Sanjay’s father prefers that he meditates instead of watching American superhero shows.

Sanjay's_Super_Team_poster

An unfortunately common aspect of multicultural media is to portray other cultures through the perspective of a white author (159), however both Zitkala-Ša and Sanjay write about their own personal experiences as a minority race. Zitkala-Ša’s experiences as a Native American female display this rare level of multiculturalism, and it incorporates matured viewpoints as she was a more educated adult when writing about her childhood. Similarly, “Sanjay’s Super Team” was written by Sanjay Patel himself as a representation of his childhood as an Indian-American struggling with diversity. Both sources teach viewers the value of strong multiculturalism, the concept that “cultural difference is central to human identity”(156), as we view struggles of people whose voices aren’t always heard through their eyes (159).

4 thoughts on “Embracing A Multicultural “Super Team””

  1. This is great ‘food for thought.’ I appreciate your comment which Zitkala-Ša struggles with her identity because missionaries force her into ‘whitehood’ and while Sanjay isn’t forced by missionaries to follow the norm, he so desires to follow the norm. Even though both cases of ‘identity theft’ are drastically different from each other, when things boil down both individuals were not their true self. Which brings up an important question to consider, how would each of these stories (movies) been different had ‘whitehood’ not been the norm or forced upon culture? What is it that created this desire to be white? Is it white privilege that people are after? If only there was a way to equal the power among individuals and eliminate a race privilege.

    1. I completely agree that if not due to the white majority, Zitkala-Ša and Sanjay would have both stayed true to their innate cultures. Both characters appeared to have a glorified image of what white American culture would guarantee, as Zitkala-Ša’s perspective was through embellished stories and Sanjay’s vision was based on unrealistic white heroes. It is understandable why these children would be drawn towards this way of life that externally appears more exciting and that a majority of American’s are choosing to follow. The innocence of children makes them easy targets for persuasion, as they initially do not take into account any negative aspects of this white dominant culture.

  2. This is a great example to use. Kelsey also brings up an interesting point of ‘identity theft’ that both Sanjay and Zitkala-Ša go through. Both individuals are drawn to this dominant white idea of living. Additionally, if whitehood wasn’t the dominant form of culture, I think that these stories wouldn’t be as prevalent or even exist. Perhaps Zitkala-a Ša wouldn’t have felt the need to conform to a culture, and Sanjay wouldn’t have had to be convinced to practice his Indian prayers.

  3. Sanjay’s feelings of needing to conform to the “white norm” reminds me of what I’m learning in my Asian American History class. In the past, immigrants were forced to prove their “whiteness” to be eligible for American citizenship. This is sadly ironic because the U.S. is now considered a melting pot of all shapes, colors, and sizes. I liked how in the end of the short story, Sanjay made it so 3 Hindu gods watched over his superhero, and named them “Sanjay’s Super Team”, because in doing so it incorporated his heritage, or “roots”, so to speak.

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