When a textile curator is forced into styling a British princess for her royal Indian tour, the clothes she chooses unspool a long thread of truths that upends both their lives and redirects the destinies of two countries.
Number of Pages:105
Country of Origin:United States
First-time screenwriter and lifelong writer Masum Momaya has been penning words towards justice and liberation long before she had that vocabulary. She’s written full text for four major museum exhibitions on race, immigration, political power and economics as Curator at the Smithsonian Institution and International Museum of Women; nearly 100 longform articles on global women’s rights; and a dissertation on how women become politicized through their bodies. Her work has been read and seen by millions worldwide.
For THE STYLIST, Masum was accepted into VONA’s Summer 2020 Screenwriting Workshop with Queen Sugar’s Valerie Woods and the 2020 Stowe Narrative Lab, for which she was a finalist for the SAGIndie Fellowship for filmmakers of color. She was also a 2020 Athena Virtual Writers Lab finalist.
Masum holds an honors BA in Public Policy and Feminist Studies from Stanford University and an EdM and EdD in Human Development from Harvard University.
“The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible.” - Toni Cade Bambara
THE STYLIST explores a lifelong question for me as a 2nd generation South Asian American woman with a disability from a working class family: “how does a woman come to know her own power given her particular privilege and pain?” The film responds through three main characters arcs. Seema is encumbered by the trauma of being a refugee and familial cultural expectations. Princess Victoria is body-shamed and “never good enough.” Her lady-in-waiting Camille copes with menopause and a crusade to maintain the status quo in a rapidly-changing world. Also, to contribute strong a strong counterpoint to stereotypical representations of brown men in American film, I wrote Abhik, an Indian feminist, who goes on his own journey around agency and masculinity.
I have political ambition to explore reparations for colonization and slavery. Most current reparations discussions stop at “that’s never going to happen” or “who is going to pay for that?,” but neither is the point. As an activist since my teens, I believe cultural change sets the stage for political change. Something can’t come into being if we can’t imagine it. THE STYLIST is set in the early 2000s and shows reparations as an alternate trajectory to white savior/celebrity charity in former colonies in the 21st century. When Princess Diana died in 1997, the British royals and their image were shaken. What would it have looked like if they had taken a more progressive path forward?
Also, being part of the South Asian diaspora, I’m taken with what a film looks like from a brown gaze rather than the white gaze all of us are educated to write with and for. My cinematic inspirations are Bend It Like Beckham, Brick Lane, Mississippi Masala and The Namesake. I write India and Kenya through the eyes of brown Seema. Where a white character might see poverty or the exotic, Seema sees home, her people, pain and promise. Ultimately, I believe making revolution visceral through film is only possible through black and brown gazes. White gazes are not designed to deliver revolution.
Finally, because colonial violence and refugee trauma are lofty topics, and audiences don’t want to be clobbered with history lessons or political polemics, I draw upon my experience as a curator to use the clothes that Seema chooses for Victoria to unspool history with visual montages of weaving and embroidery, public reactions to outfits and origin stories. Audiences may come to watch this film because they love fashion or are fascinated with British royalty, and I’m happy to work with that. I’ve always taken this approach, including in my Smithsonian exhibition Beyond Bollywood, where people walked in the gallery because they heard 1960s Bollywood music but learned about nuanced history of South Asian immigration, including economic and political struggles. Making revolution beautiful is my means of making it irresistible.