A Matter of Concern for the Greek-American Community

By Aliki Efstathiou

Nia Vardalos and John Corbett star in My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Feet dragging, faint of heart and knowing I would regret giving in against my better instincts, I too caved in to all the hoopla (and the nagging thought that I had to be fair) and went to see the mega-hit "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."

Although this movie has been out for some time, I wasn't particularly interested in seeing it. I was already acquainted with the one-woman play Nia Vardalos had done at a Los Angeles theater a couple of years ago, so I knew it would more than likely present Greeks in a negative and unflattering light. The endorsement implied by Oprah when she devoted some of her September 26th program on wedding bloopers to Vardalos and the movie gave me that final push, so a few days later I gave it a whirl. After all, I did not think Oprah would lend her support to any project that degrades anyone, let alone a whole community. Moreover, I was curious to see if the participation of the Hollywood power couple, Wilson and Hanks, had made any improvement on the original product.

From the opening scenes to the bitter end, I was stunned with dismay and disbelief. My first instinct was to get up and leave, but I forced myself to stay on the theory it must get better as the movie progresses -- why else is it raking in millions at the box office? But it was so very hard -- no, impossible - for me to believe that Greeks were being portrayed so distastefully; apparently the Greek population throughout the U.S. and Canada
In virtually every scene, Greeks are characterized as lacking a moral compass, crass, vulgar, a group of imbeciles, and as ignorant, uneducated louts. We are presented as being devoid of knowledge or concern for anything beyond our immediate sphere, living in some vacuum of overwhelming stupidity and bad taste.
have failed to notice this fact. In virtually every scene, Greeks are characterized as lacking a moral compass, crass, vulgar, a group of imbeciles, and as ignorant, uneducated louts. We are presented as being devoid of knowledge or concern for anything beyond our immediate sphere, living in some vacuum of overwhelming stupidity and bad taste. This derision of Greeks cannot be defended or excused because it brings a few titters of laughter to the viewers. I made every effort to remind myself that it was supposed to be a comedy and I tried to continue watching it by adhering to that perspective. Try as I might, I could not divorce myself from my feelings, nor from my pride in my heritage, which I love and respect deeply. However, I am asking myself if my fellow Greeks share those feelings with me.

How is it possible that Greek Americans, Greek Canadians, and all Greeks who may have seen this distortion of our culture, excuse a movie that is nothing more than a base, rank insult to every Greek, disguised as humor of the cheapest variety. Incredibly, we are tolerating the image this "movie" creates that it is Greek practice to abuse and ridicule our mothers and grandmothers with shameless disdain. In doing so, we are robbing ourselves of dignity by our passive acceptance of Vardalos' miserable presentation of our families. Vardalos would have us believe her Greek father is so low in intelligence that he views his daughter as nothing more than a breeding cow and who's answer to every ailment is to treat it with Windex. Is that why Greeks around the world rank among the highest in percentage of university degrees, male and female?

How is it possible that we are allowing the people behind this attack on Greeks and our culture a free ride, when they
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camouflage disrespect as comedy with a few laughs for the simple-minded? Why are our church leaders accepting without comment their mockery of the sacraments of the Greek Orthodox faith - Baptism and Marriage – in depicting them as borderline chaos to the grotesque? Is this how the famous Tom Hanks was treated when he was married to Rita Wilson at the St Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Los Angeles or when their children were baptized? What was this duo thinking when they chose to produce and promote this piece of garbage?

Vardalos' motivation is also suspect. Why did she choose to write a play and a movie script that denigrates her fellow Greeks? A psychologist might point out that she appears to harbor quite a bit of animosity for Hellenic culture, perhaps resentful that she hasn't lived up to its ideals. Another possibility is that "Wedding" is specifically about Vardalos' own family. The movie may actually reflect who and what her family is and their own unique style of dysfunctional relationships, resulting in her desire to strike back at them indirectly, by attacking Greeks in general. This may be her own personal story about the environment in
which she was raised. If so, then the movie should properly be called "My Big Fat Ill-Mannered and Stupid Family". She should remove all the references to anything Greek, including the Greek Orthodox Church and its ceremonies, the flag of Greece, and the cheap imitations of Greek classical arts. Remember also, that this is not a Cinderella story and an example of an unknown actor/writer scoring tremendous and merited success by laboring through the trenches. Vardalos has one of the two or three most powerful Hollywood players sponsoring her venture and ramming it down our throats. Save your admiration for those worthy of it. We are paying too steep a price while Nia becomes a multimillionaire and her backers gloat as they line their already overflowing pockets at our expense.

How – and pay close attention to this point – is it possible that anyone in the Hellenic community doesn't realize and fully understand that the non-Greek public believes this movie to be a true and accurate portrait of Greeks. This viewpoint is reinforced by what Vardalos, Wilson and Hanks have stated on every program in which they have appeared to promote "Wedding". Unfortunately, the general public that has gone to see it doesn't know how untrue or monumentally exaggerated are the imbecilities shown. They believe that this is what Greeks are really like -- regrettably, a perspective that will remain long after this poor excuse for a comedy bites the dust. Most of them will assume that this is how all Greeks act, think, and live.

Perhaps more of us will have the courage to stand up and voice our outrage and do something defend our beautiful Hellenic culture and history. Remember, if we don't, who will? There are too many false impressions about Greek society (and Greece) floating around that we as a group make no effort to correct or dispel. By our tolerance of the Vardalos/Wilson/Hanks farce, we are permitting everyone who sees it to walk away thinking Greeks are the classless and clueless idiots Vardalos makes us out to be.

An added note – it seems that the cinema production is going to be recycled into a weekly television sitcom that will serve as a fill-in for new fall shows that flop on ABC. Isn't that wonderful! Just think, now every American home will have the opportunity to buy into this fabrication. A sequel has also been referred to as likely, one that could be even more ludicrous and malicious.

To Nia Vardalos-Gonzalez, Rita Wilson, and Tom Hanks -- congratulations on your efforts to make Greeks the butt of bad jokes and making us objects of scorn and contempt. BRAVO!!!

To you, my fellow Greeks and philhellenes, I make the earnest request that you carefully and thoughtfully consider whether "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is just a little spoof recognized by all who see it as disproportionate hyperbole. Hopefully, as a majority we know the true nature of this movie, and find the picture it paints of Greeks both objectionable and misleading. To those who think they see genuine similarities to their own families in it, pay closer attention; any resemblance was so overblown that it became fictional and unjustified. We must not tolerate any continuing exploitation of our community by falling victim to the cult of celebrity or the inability to comprehend the long-term consequences of failing to take action. If you think that I have over-reacted to what you may suggest is just a movie, ask yourselves whether upon leaving the theater you wanted tell everyone you could with sincere pride, "Guess what, I'm Greek too!", or did you silently hurry off with a sense of humiliation and unwarranted violation?