My Big Fat Greek Wedding is an ethnographic style film that can be viewed in relationship to the anthropological concepts of endogamy and family acceptance of marriage to non-Greek partners. Anthropological views of this film will be addressed in this paper to assess familial relationships in the Greek culture. The film My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a great example of truths and misconceptions of the Greek culture.
Summary of My Big Fat Greek Wedding
The film titled My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a Hollywood-style anthropological film. This romantic comedy tells the story of a Greek family who emigrated from Greece to North America and who have three children, one being a daughter who is a bit plain and has never married. The daughter’s name is Toula Portokalos and she is in her thirties. Toula is a socially awkward lady who works long hours in her parents’ restaurant as a waitress. She starts to see her life slipping by and isn’t happy with the direction it is taking. Toula has a large, extended Greek family. Her extended family consists of aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, and one eccentric grandmother. She loves her family tremendously, but at times they can be overbearing and overly opinionated. They view the world through the Greek culture and they have many Greek customs that they practice. One day Toula meets a man named Ian Miller who comes to eat in her family restaurant. Ian Miller is a professor at a college in town. Toula reacts in a very shy manner, but is attracted to him. They are not officially introduced to one another and he leaves after his meal.
Toula decides to go to college and take a computer course, with the idea that she wants to automate the billing system at the restaurant. She takes some classes at the college and over time begins to change her appearance. She starts wearing make-up, fixes her hair, she changes from eyeglasses to contacts, she dresses nicer, and starts to become more outgoing. She eventually runs into Ian again, when she starts working for her aunt’s travel business. Toula and Ian begin dating and learning about each other. They have a wonderful time together and are very happy. Toula doesn’t tell her father because Ian isn’t Greek and Toula knows that her father wouldn’t approve. Her father and mother eventually find out, and her father is very upset about Ian not being Greek. He starts having Greek men over for dinner to try to set-up Toula with them. Toula isn’t pleased about it and continues to date Ian. Eventually, Ian asks Toula to marry her and she says yes.
Her father is very upset about this because he doesn’t want Toula to marry someone who isn’t Greek. In the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding Toula’s father says, “Nice Greek girls should marry Greek boys, have Greek babies, and feed everyone until the day they die (Vardalos, 2002).” Her father eventually realizes that Toula is happy and in love with Ian, through the help of Toula’s mother. Toula, Ian, and Toula’s family plan for a big Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony. In order for Ian to be married in a Greek Orthodox Church, he must become baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church. He is baptized in the church and they prepare for the big wedding.
Toula’s father and mother invite all of their family members and Ian’s family members to the wedding. They have a big wedding ceremony complete with all of the Greek style decorations and wedding attire. They have a traditional wedding dinner afterwards to celebrate Toula and Ian’s wedding. Everyone is happy and the family begins to accept Ian into their family. They even say that Ian looks Greek now. Toula and Ian have a daughter and a short while later the movie ends with them walking her to Greek school.
Anthropological Analysis of My Big Fat Greek Wedding
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a well-done Hollywood-style anthropological film, in my opinion. The film is quite funny and charmingly romantic. My favorite aspect of the movie is the closeness of the large Greek family and that everyone in the family is always willing to help each other out. Their love for one another is transparent and they enjoy their daily interactions. I have always been extremely interested in the Greek culture and have admired the closeness of the families and their fascinating culture. My Big Fat Greek Wedding helped me gain more insight into why it is so important for the Greeks to pass on their meaningful traditions, so as to not lose their Greek customs. This film relates to the anthropological topic of endogamy and the family acceptance of non-Greek partners. According to the textbook Seeing Anthropology – Cultural Anthropology Through Film – Fourth Edition endogamy is defined as, “The rule that one must marry within one’s own group (Heider, 2007:246).” It is extremely important to the people of many cultures that they pass on their customs, values, and beliefs. If the people in cultures don’t pass on their beliefs, then their culture will eventually die out.
The importance of these values is portrayed in this film through their family interactions. The fact that Toula has fallen in love with a non-Greek man is very upsetting to her father. He is concerned that they won’t pass on the family traditions of the Greek culture. The cultural system portrayed in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding has many accuracies and one such accuracy would be that of family togetherness. The cultural system of family togetherness is in many ways accurately portrayed in the film. The article When “Second Generation” Narratives and Hollywood Meet: Making Ethnicity in My Big Fat Greek Wedding states that, “The household in Greece is enmeshed in wide networks of kin and social relations. This is evident in informal Sunday meals or on religious holidays and in formal household rituals such as baptisms, engagements, and weddings, where members of the extended family, friends, and acquaintances are invited to join in a commensal gathering ‘to create bonds between different groups, often overriding major social and economic distinctions’ (Gefou-Madianou 17) (Anagnostou, 2012:150-151).”
These types of family get-togethers are portrayed in scenes from the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, such as the family’s Easter celebration, the Baptism of Toula’s fiancé, and Toula and Ian’s wedding. The cultural system that is portrayed in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding also has many inaccuracies. According to the article titled When “Second Generation” Narratives and Hollywood Meet: Making Ethnicity in My Big Fat Greek Wedding an inaccuracy that is portrayed by the film is, “Its portrayal of immigrants as primitives in our midst reanimates a stock of images common to Hollywood and ethnographic cinema in general: the infantilization, debasement, and exoticization of the other, cast as an aboriginal who embodies a way of life that is bygone in the spectator’s culture. In this narration, the immigrant is seen as parochial and frozen in time, belonging to an earlier temporal reality (Anagnostou, 2012:140).”
There are numerous scenes throughout the film that portray the Greek people as primitive, such as Toula’s eccentric grandmother. Her grandmother is seen throughout the movie running outside and trying to escape from the Turkish enemy. She is also seen in the movie giving derogatory gestures to people because she thinks they are the Turkish enemies of the Greeks. Another accuracy portrayed in My Big Fat Greek Wedding would be that of Greek families encouraging their daughters to marry within the Greek culture. According to the article titled Adjusting Marriage Tradition: Greeks to Greek-Americans, “Marriage is valued by Greek-Americans, and ethnic endogamy (marriage within the group) is the stated ideal . . . ‘Fewer problems’, understates the immense problem that some intermarried Greek-Americans face concerning parental acceptance of non-Greek spouses (Schultz, 1981:207).”
A family’s acceptance of their daughter’s partner is critical for their support of their daughter. In the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Toula’s parents, especially her father, keep encouraging her to get married to a Greek man because a good daughter would marry a Greek man. In the thesis titled Greek-American Couples – Examining Acculturation, Egalitarianism and Intimacy, “The family, along with the Greek Orthodox Church, is critical to the maintenance of Greek ethnic identity from one generation to the next. Greek-Americans greatly value the institution of family (Karapanagiotis, 2008:33).” In the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Toula’s family is very important to her and she wants their approval, so she can marry Ian and have her family’s support. An inaccuracy portrayed in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, according to the article titled When “Second Generation” Narratives and Hollywood Meet: Making Ethnicity in My Big Fat Greek Wedding is, “The camera directs a reductive gaze at the immigrant figure. Whether it follows the grandmother, frames the male suitors, or zooms in on the father, it casts the immigrant as one who inhabits a fundamental otherness, in the manner of an imperial and colonial discourse (Anagnostou, 2012:148).”
When Toula’s father tries to set her up with Greek men, so she won’t want to marry Ian, the film portrays the Greek men as strangely odd and in a negative stereotype. The Greek men are portrayed in an exclusionary manner, so as to show their otherness, as being “different” from Americans. Popular film presentations, such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding, can be compared to anthropological ethnographic films in many ways. According to the textbook Seeing Anthropology – Cultural Anthropology Through Film – Fourth Edition, “Ethnographic films study particular cultures and record their way of life, so it’s not lost in time (Heider, 2007:434).”
Ethnographic films portray the daily lives of people and how they interact with other people in their community. Ethnographic films, such as The Nuer, Dead Birds, and Box of Treasures all discuss the importance of culture. The film titled The Nuer especially focuses on kinship. Many popular film presentations attempt to portray their characters in their culture, but aren’t successful with it. They aren’t successful because they add a lot of drama and excitement to their films and lose track of the cultural aspect of the characters in the film. I think the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding was done well for a Hollywood-style film. They did portray some aspects of the Greek culture incorrectly, but they also portrayed many aspects correctly.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is based of a true story, in which the co-star and writer is Nia Vardalos. Because a Greek lady who experienced the plot in the story writes it and co-stars in it, there are many truths to the film. Hollywood has a tendency to want to dramatize and add more interesting plots to captivate their audience, so they have included some inaccuracies and stereotypes in the film. In the text When “Second Generation” Narratives and Hollywood Meet: Making Ethnicity in My Big Fat Greek Wedding it is stated that, “Popular American film often oversimplifies the experiences of American ethnics of European heritage. Although Polish Americans, German Americans, or Greek Americans may appear as ethnic characters, their claim to difference is rarely the primary focus. Mainstream cinema deploys various European American identities as tropes to address issues of national belonging, to assert dominant ideals, to allegorize the American Dream, or to discipline ethnicity. It largely refrains from delving into the intricacies of their hyphenated lives (Anagnostou, 2012:139).”
The Greek characters in this film were often portrayed as eccentric and as a different kind of people, unfortunately. Hopefully, in time the movie industry will begin to try to portray people of different cultures more accurately and not as the “other people”. I, personally, found the film to be a heartwarming, romantic comedy and enjoyed it. My eyes have been opened to the stark incorrect differences and stereotypes that were portrayed in the film because of my exposure to anthropology in my education. I have learned a wealth of information about how to view and judge ethnographic films and virtually all movies. I now have a better understanding of films and know how to evaluate them and assess them in an anthropological manner. I will leave the readers of this analysis with a final quote to ponder from the film.
In My Big Fat Greek Wedding Toula’s father gives a speech at Toula and Ian’s wedding dinner and he states the following, “The name Portokalos means oranges in the Greek language and the name Miller means apples in the Greek language. We are apples and oranges. We are all different, but in the end we are all fruit (Vardalos, 2002).” Toula’s father eloquently makes the comparison of the Greeks and non-Greeks as different, but yet they are the same. It is important to remember where you come from in life and what makes you different and who you are, such as being Greek or non-Greek. It is also important to remember that we all share commonalities in life. We should all celebrate our heritage and customs and never forget them, and we all should be willing to learn new things in life, as well.
2012When “Second Generation” Narratives and Hollywood Meet: Making Ethnicity in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the U.S., 37(4): 139-163.
2007Seeing Anthropology – Cultural Anthropology Through Film – Fourth Edition: 237, 266-267.
Karapanagiotis, Fay Tsiartsionis
2008Greek American Couples Examining Acculturation, Egalitarianism and Intimacy. Ph.D. Dissertation, Doctor of Philosophy, Drexel University.
Schultz, Sandra L.
1981Adjusting Marriage Tradition: Greeks to Greek-Americans. Journal of Comparative Family Studies 12(2): 205-218.
2002My Big Fat Greek Wedding. DVD. United States: Warner Home Video.