My Beautiful Laundrette
My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) was the first screenplay by Hanif Kureishi, commissioned by Channel 4’s Film on Four. Set in South London in the 1980s, it concerns a second-generation British Pakistani man, Omar, renovating the Churchill Laundrette (a name clearly chosen by Kureishi for its nationalist associations) with the help of a white British childhood friend, Johnny. Partly by intercepting a drug deal, Omar draws in customers by equipping the laundrette with games machines and piped music. Though Johnny has at one point had connections to the racist National Front, his friendship with Omar develops into a sexual affair, despite the violence and prejudice they are surrounded by.
Two other characters – Omar’s father Hussain and Omar’s uncle Nasser – are first-generation Pakistani migrants, and respectively represent the poles of cultural identity Omar is pulled between. Omar’s father is a disillusioned socialist intellectual, committed to the traditions of Pakistan and opposed to the prevailing cultural attitudes of contemporary Thatcherite Britain. Nasser, however, embraces the westernised capitalist ethos and has a white mistress; it is he who is asked to find his nephew employment. Nevertheless, Nasser does maintain some non-westernised attitudes, returning to his family to arrange the marriage of his daughter.
These cultural divides were to some degree reflected by the reception of the film; some Pakistanis took the film to denigrate their community. In New York a demonstration by the Pakistan Action Committee included banners which called My Beautiful Laundrette ‘the product of a vile and perverted mind’.
Directed by Stephen Frears, and starring Gordon Warnecke as Omar and Daniel Day-Lewis as Johnny, the film did so well at the Edinburgh Festival that it was subsequently distributed internationally. Kureishi won the New York Film Critics’ Best Screenplay Award, an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay, and a nomination in the 1986 BAFTAS.
- Article by:
- Sukhdev Sandhu
- Literature 1950–2000, Capturing and creating the modern, Exploring identity
Hanif Kureishi's 1985 film My Beautiful Laundrette portrays a young British Asian man who runs a laundrette with his white schoolfriend, and the romantic relationship between the two. Sukhdev Sandhu explains how the film marked a radical departure from previous representations of British Asians in mainstream culture.
- Article by:
- Hanif Kureishi
- Power and conflict, Exploring identity
Hanif Kureishi describes how the MP Enoch Powell made racism the basis of his political position, and recalls the climate of fear Powell's hate-mongering created among people of colour in the 1970s.
- Article by:
- Sarfraz Manzoor
- 20th-century theatre, Exploring identity
The play East is East, first performed in 1996 and adapted as a film in 1999, explores the lives of a Pakistani immigrant, his British wife and their children in 1970s Salford. Sarfraz Manzoor considers how far attitudes towards Asian immigrants have changed since the 1970s, and recounts his own changing response to East is East over the past two decades.
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Hanif Kureishi explores suburbia, pop-culture, race and the fluidity of identity in relation to some of his most famous literary works. Shot at his house in south London and at the British Library, the film offers rare glimpses into Kureishi’s archive, allowing viewers to examine manuscript drafts of My Beautiful Laundrette, The Buddha of Suburbia and The Black Album. - video