A Wedding on Planet Obama

Rachel Getting Married
From L-R: Anne Hathaway, Tunde Adebimpe, Rosemarie DeWitt and Mather Zickel in Rachel Getting Married.

As a ravenous consumer of film (insert shameless plug here), I make it a point to see as many of the Oscar contenders before the show as I can. Given that the Oscars are in less than three weeks–and nominations only came out a week-and-a-half ago–I’m in a bit of a film frenzy. Last night, I saw Rachel Getting Married.

Rachel Getting Married is about a recovering addict/bulimic/human grenade, Kim (Anne Hathaway), who is released from rehab for a few days to attend her sister Rachel’s (Blake DeWitt) wedding. Kim is a narcissistic mess of a human being who proves that the only person more tiresome than an addict is a recovering addict.

But this post isn’t about Kim. It’s about Rachel and her husband, Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe), and their cross-cultural mishmash of a wedding.

Rachel is white. Sidney is black. Rachel’s and Kim’s father’s second wife is a light-skinned black woman, possibly of mixed parentage. Sidney’s best man is white, and his other best friend is Asian. Their wedding is heavy on Indian influences: the bridal party wears saris, the groom wears a necklace of carnations, the cake is a sky-blue concoction topped with a bejeweled elephant. The party itself is such a bombardment of mixed cultural influences–Irish music, hip hop dancing, belly dancing, marching band, American barbecue–that it’s practically sensory overload.

And most remarkably, not one reference is made to the jumble of races, religions and ethnicities on display. This film takes place in a world (let’s call it “Planet Obama”) where only the positive aspects of multiculturalism are apparent. Race has nothing to do with a man and a woman loving each other, or two families getting along. It is only relevant insofar as it adds another exciting cultural influence to the family dynamic.

I don’t think real life has quite caught up with the world of Rachel Getting Married, but we’re getting there.

Rabbi Lev Baesh, director of our Resource Center for Jewish Clergy, often notes that the people are ahead of the institutions. While the Reform movement wrings its hands over whether its rabbis should officiate at interfaith weddings, couples have moved beyond simply wanting a rabbi at their wedding. Many, if not most, want a clergyperson from both partners’ faiths. Rachel Getting Married goes a step further. It shows a couple appropriating religious traditions from a culture that’s not even theirs.

Rabbi Baesh is also fond of speaking of religion as a counter-cultural force. During the ’60s, this meant Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King Jr. marching arm-in-arm for the cause of civil rights. Today, it can mean offering a sense of meaning and morality in a world beset by materialism and narcissism–or it can mean being a reactionary force against the social current. Should clergy draw a line in the sand and not involve themselves in religiously syncretic celebrations like Rachel’s and Sidney’s wedding? Or should they offer themselves to officiate at weddings of couples who don’t share their faith?

Planet Obama is a fascinating, confusing place. I don’t envy the clergypeople who have to navigate it.

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