‘Slumdog’ Attracts Controversy, Awards

BY Arts Desk  February 3, 2009 at 4:33 PM EDT

Poster for 'Slumdog Millionaire'It’s been a week of mixed blessings for the makers of “Slumdog Millionaire,” a rags-to-riches love story set in Mumbai, India. Danny Boyle picked up a best director award from the Director’s Guild of America over the weekend, adding to the film’s collection from the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globes. And with 10 Oscar nominations, the Cinderella story has a shot at the biggest prize of the season: an Academy Award for best picture.

But not everyone is showering the film with accolades. Since its Indian premiere in late January, the film has faced criticism from both audiences and people directly involved in the production over its portrayal of poverty and the use of impoverished children as actors.

The similarities between the film and real life are hard to ignore, which is perhaps the reason complaints have garnered much attention. In the movie, the children are exploited, physically abused and forced into labor, yet the lead character finds some redemption from his tumultuous upbringing.

The families of the two youngest stars, who live in the very slums portrayed, claim that the children were underpaid for their work. But the filmmakers say they’ve enrolled the children in school and set up a trust fund for them once they’ve finished, in addition to the sum they were paid for their work.

On Tuesday in India, dozens of residents in one slum-turned-filming location protested the movie by slapping pictures of the cast and crew with slippers. At issue is whether the filming of real slum conditions for the entertainment of more privileged audiences is voyeuristic or exploitative, with many members of the Indian media weighing in. The film’s title has also brought out critics who claim the term “slumdog” is an offensive colonialist throwback. Boyle, an Englishman, says “dog” is meant in the “underdog” sense, not as an insult. “At the end of the day,” Boyle told reporters, “it is just a movie.”

Here are Boyle and producer Christian Colson talking to ITN about the allegations :