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American Sikh

average rating is 4 out of 5


Chris Olson


Posted on:

May 11, 2023

Film Reviews
American Sikh
Directed by:
Ryan Westra, Vishavjit Singh
Written by:
Ryan Westra, Vishavjit Singh
Vishavjit Singh

The superhero origin story is a format audiences are well accustomed to by now. With the short documentary film American Sikh, however, filmmakers Ryan Westra and Vishavjit Singh subvert the typically pro-American narrative for something more emotionally tragic, charting the experience of a man attempting to maintain his religious identity in a society that has become increasingly hostile towards anyone wearing a turban.

Told with a comic book aesthetic and slow-moving animation, American Sikh packs a powerful punch when it comes to arresting the viewer with this tale of two cultures. A thoughtful opening section leads to a more discomforting journey through post-9/11 violence towards Sikhs living in America. The filmmakers do not shy away from displaying events as horrific as gun shootings but the animated format allows the visual to become something more palatable and less isolating than the effect real footage or live action would have been.

Another impressive filmmaking tactic is showcasing the various hurtful slurs our protagonist has to endure as captions, only ever written on the screen and never voiced. This seemed to remove the power of them, rejecting any connection to Singh's identity. It's only one mention of "Osama" that makes it through but this was important to explain his dilemma.

American Sikh sidesteps being a cautionary tale that could have easily wallowed in the tragic unfairness of it all when we find out the man received a very different reaction from American citizens when he dressed up as Captain America. Whilst not atoning for their kneejerk cruelty towards people of different cultures following the terror attacks, it is a joy to see people asking him for pictures and autographs whilst dressed up as one of the most iconic superheroes, whilst also wearing a turban.

The short film format works for the story, conveying Singh's experience with compact clarity without falling into any unnecessary padding. It's a mark of great direction, especially with the limitless lure of animation, that American Sikh feels taut and as professionally delivered as any of the Marvel or DC output. It's only the narration from Singh that does sporadically reveal the humble nature of the piece, with a few jolting moments where he verbally stumbles.

One of the standout aspects of American Sikh was the music from River Nason - a jaunty explosion of sound that, again, really helped the tone of the film stay more upbeat than it might have done. It really complemented the origin story feel of the short film and worked sublimely with the animation.

Bold, brave, and never boring, American Sikh tells an important story of identity struggle in one of the U.S.'s darkest hours.

About the Film Critic
Chris Olson
Chris Olson
Short Film, Animation, Documentary
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