Powders Revisited: Queer Micropolitical Disorientation, Phenomenology, and Multicultural Trust in Hanif Kureishi and Stephen Frears’ My Beautiful Laundrette

  • Alberto Fernández Carbajal
Part of the Palgrave Politics of Identity and Citizenship Series book series ( CAL)


It has b een three decades since the release of My Beautiful Laundrette in 1985, a financially modest film written by Hanif Kureishi and directed by Stephen Frears, whose international box-office success took its own makers by surprise. Set in economically challenged and racially restless London during the peak of the Thatcher era, with a young British Asian man as its main protagonist, the film came out only a few years before the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and all its attendant controversies. These polemical events, now commonly known as the ‘Rushdie affair’, have constituted the foundational moment of British Muslim identity as a political category. Pitted against such a dire watershed, I propose My Beautiful Laundrette (henceforth Laundrette) as a more invigorating seminal representation of the subcontinental Muslim diaspora’s fortunes in Britain. The film has gradually achieved iconic status as a galvanising representation of diasporic experience in the UK, and, specifically, of British national identity and its tensions with issues of class, ethnicity, and sexuality. Tellingly, Gayatri Gopinath opens her study Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures with an analysis of Laundrette, and, most recently, Sadia Abbas examines Laundrette in the initial chapter of At Freedom’s Limit : Islam and the Postcolonial Predicament, focusing on Islam’s role in British race relations. Both texts help to confirm the film’s iconic status as a foundational narrative of South Asian diasporic and queer experience. In their book Framing Muslims : Stereotyping and Representation Since 9/11, Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin urgently prompt: ‘The crucial question being asked is whether cultural difference can be harmonized and a multicultural society created or sustained, or whether the experiment of respecting and attempting politically to include identity positions with values that may jar with those of the majority is a doomed enterprise’. As I argue here, Laundrette attempts to answer this question in an affirmative manner, paving the way towards a more multicultural understanding of Britain as a nation by pushing against socially enforced ethnic boundaries and through the strategic deployment of queerness.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alberto Fernández Carbajal
    • 1
  1. 1.University of RoehamptonLondonUK

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