Capt Sikh America fights racial bais

  • Neetika Walter, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Apr 02, 2015 23:33 IST

A documentary on Captain Sikh America educating people about the unique identity of Sikhs on the streets of New York has been released. So what’s behind this 11 minute and 44 second documentary that was launched two days ago?

“The documentary about the philosophy behind my Captain America alter-ego along with the man behind this mask, which is me, an American who many choose to stereotype without getting to know,” says Vishavjit Singh, the creator of the cartoon character Captain Sikh America.

Produced by Sikh Lens, and written and directed by Ryan Westra, Matthew Rogers and Ben Fischinger, the documentary titled ‘Red , White and Beard’ captures the artistic essence of the 43-year-old software engineer and cartoonist Vishavjit Singh’s pursuits.

“Vish has been dressing as Sikh Captain America for a few years. In early 2014, I saw a short video another group had made with him that focused on people's reactions to him. My co-directors and I wanted to expand upon this idea and provide a message of the widespread religious intolerance and racial stereotypes that have recently been publicised in the US,” said filmmaker Matthew Roger.

Comedy strikes a chord

“We were excited to work on this project because it is rare to find such an important issue approached in such a way. In the wake of 9/11 and with the wars in West Asia, there has been a clear rise of racism in our country, especially towards those who look like our dear friend Vish. Education is the obvious approach to fighting this new prejudice, but the education-focused media is often not captivating enough to inspire a response in the viewer or witty enough to gather a large audience. With Vish we knew we had a story that was bizarre enough to gain interest, but important enough to make an impact,” said 23-year-old Ryan.

Out of comfort zone

Vishavjit, who is otherwise a private person, chose to walk the streets of America, with the message of fighting intolerance towards hate crime after the heinous shootout at Wisconsin Gurdwara in August 2012.

“I created this character but never imagined I would actually don the uniform myself. A photographer’s (Fiona Aboud) idea in response to my illustration to dress up as Captain America was initially met with rejection. But a year later, the massacre of Sikh workshippers at a gurdwara in Milwaukee really hit close to home for me. I felt these people died just because they looked different. I wrote an article in response calling for a new superhero fighting intolerance in Seattle Times. Fiona asked me to don the superhero uniform in response to the piece and I agreed this time. A tragedy had created new circumstances that forced me to get out of my comfort zone and try a new approach to confront intolerance.”

Positive feedback

Vishavjit, who travelled from New York to Los Angeles to Kansas fighting American stereotypes, feels this documentary will make a difference.

“Just in the last two days, since the launch of the documentary, I have heard positive comments about the film. A teacher even showed the film in her class! It’s all about using a new vision to excite our collective imagination and start new conversations. That is already happening and every small connection we make will lead to a more open world where we can get to know each other based more on our actions than appearances.”

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