As a filmmaker, film lover and an advocate of representation of women in world cinema, I have always yearned to watch films that thwarted racial stereotypes. Though I can count such films with the fingers on one hand, I end up finding something irksome even in those. This week I watched the Netflix original film Good Sam starring Indian-American actor Tiya Sircar – directed by Kate Melville with a significant female crew – and was pleasantly surprised.
Kate Melville is an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter. Her debut feature Picture Day premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and won the Borsos Prize for Best Canadian Feature. After having worked extensively in television, Kate brings us the light-hearted albeit impossible plot of an ideal world that still nurtures good Samaritans. While there are some very obvious gaps in the screenplay, the film poses a fundamental question about the human condition: Are people capable of helping others without expecting any returns? Cleverly, it doesn’t try to give us a definitive answer. But whether the movie successfully frames this meaty idea within its breezy drama was worth my intrigue. I gained a perspective from the film that wasn’t even being overemphasised, and that to me is the mark of a good film.
Good Sam, based on a book by Dete Meserve, follows the life of a broadcast journalist Kate Bradley who is shown to be excelling in her “bummer beat” reportage. Her adrenaline packed job faces a minor setback when she is assigned to report on a mysterious good Samaritan who has been leaving $100,000 on random doorsteps across New York City.
A role she was initially reluctant to take on soon becomes breaking news. Completely consumed by it now, Katie tries to get to the bottom of it, much to her editor’s dislike. This pursuit brings her in contact with two romantic interests, who in their own way bring to the fore the human condition this film wishes to highlight. While at first it appears to be random, the recipients of this $100,000 actually have something in common. The studio is thronged by many men who claim to be Good Sam (Samaritan).
With both of Kate’s love interests, Jack Hensen and Eric Hayes, in the fray for Good Sam, how does Kate finally connect the dots of this mystery? Who is the actual Good Sam that is behind these acts of selfless generosity? The climax reveals his identity with a pleasant yet predictable twist.
South Asian lead in a pleasantly ambiguous racial disposition
With Hollywood appropriating native, indigenous and characters of people of colour, it was heartening to see a lead role sans the racial stereotyping. Kate Bradley is the protagonist of the film; she is smart, sincere and great at her job. She just happens to be South Asian and her racial identity has absolutely no bearing on the plotline. As a viewer, it did feel good to see someone I could relate to. The protagonist checks the Sigourney Weaver test of “thinking – moving – deciding characters,” and is entirely devoid of a “male saviour”. What a relief that is. The film also has various people of colour in the cast that effortlessly bring in a striking diversity that most films lack.
Predominant female crew
The film is written by Teena Booth and Dete Meserve, and the crisp editing is by Isabelle Levesque. Apart from this, the crew has women in every single department from production to camera and sound. Tiya Sircar, who has a main voice role as Sabine Wren in Lucasfilm Animation Disney series Star Wars Forces of Destiny, has wowed audiences with her performance.
On her role as Sabine, she’s said, “I didn’t see superhero characters who looked like me when I was growing up, so if I can contribute to changing, in some small way, for younger people now, that’s hugely important to me. Representation is so important.” She brings an earnest charisma to the character of Kate Bradley in Good Sam. The other female cast of the film sported a healthy competition inherent to TV journalism. It was rather satisfying to observe how the female characters weren’t pitted against each other, nor was there a “catfight”!
Good Sam is many things, but mostly it is a film that desperately hopes to make people realise that there is some goodness left in this world. With a few additions and eliminations, it has the potential to be a smart, feminist exploration of human compassion camouflaged with the evil of self-interest, and how media can mould our perceptions. As an actor of Indian descent, Tiya Sircar marks another step forward for women of colour in Hollywood. Films like Good Sam also serve as an example for Indian filmmakers to draw inspiration from, given what we are made to consume forcefully in the name of “strong female lead” made by men – a tepid, misogynist display of male ego.
Watch the trailer of the film, which is streaming on Netflix now:
Vaishnavi Sundar is a writer and a self-taught filmmaker. Her interests lie in an odd mix of cinema, arts, and all things feminist.