Fun fact: Shah Rukh Khan is the second wealthiest man in the entire world! This may surprise some, but it makes sense if you know that Bollywood has an aggressive global market share — and access to audiences that Hollywood may not. (I actually think he’s a pretty awful actor, but my biases do not carry any weight in this particular discussion.)
You hear that?
That’s the sound of a dozen U.S.-based publications jumping the gun and assuming that nobody in the U.S. is of South Asian descent — and further assuming that Bollywood films don’t reach non-South Asian audiences.
Elena Shepperd from PolicyMic wrote an article with the headline, “The Second Richest Actor in the World Is Someone Most Americans Have Never Heard Of” that opens with the lede:
Shah Rukh Khan has been making movies since 1992. He’s the biggest movie star in a country with the second-biggest population in the world. He also happens to be the second-wealthiest celebrity on Earth.
And if you live in the U.S., you probably haven’t heard of him.
Trust me, I get the need to make broad generalizations for the sake of easily-packaged news items — and I’m guilty of buying the cow when it comes to that. But this narrative – that a Bollywood star is huge around the world, but nobody in the U.S. has heard of them – is exhausting. Publications have been covering Priyanka Chopra’s emerging pop career with the same trite angle.
It’s further proof that there’s something missing in most American newsroom cultures: many of the reporters they hire don’t understand that there are other formidable industries that exist alongside those of the U.S. Many of these reporters are unaware of any zeitgeist that originates outside the U.S. Worse yet, these reporters discount the cultural diets of American audiences of color, assuming that if a titan like Shah Rukh Khan doesn’t connect to white audiences, he somehow hasn’t “connected with America.” You need only visit Tumblr to find out that Khan, Chopra, and the rest of their Bollywood peers have sizable fan-bases that easily rival those of their Hollywood counterparts.
Perhaps the oddest part of this particular example is that PolicyMic purports to be a media outlet that challenges the parochial biases of many media giants –here, they fold without reservation to the same biases. An easy fix? Asking writers to educate themselves–a perfunctory Google or Tumblr search would’ve done quite well in this case!–before they issue such blanket statements.
Rohin Guha is an Editor at The Aerogram. Have a chat with him on Twitter!