Elena Kampouris rocked the role of Paris, Toula and Ian’s angst-filled teenage daughter, in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2016). Her father Alexander hails from the island of Kasos, in southeastern Greece. [Her mother is French American.] With a Greek name and a Greek dad, one would think that Elena is truly Greek, right?
Look at the two images above. Paris is on the left, Elena on the right. Why did she dye her blonde hair for this role? The producers insisted because they thought that Elena didn’t “look Greek enough.” American culture is little better. Elena told Teen Vogue, “Whenever I tell people I’m Greek, they don’t believe me. I knew the film was looking for a Greek-looking girl, and I didn’t know if I looked Greek enough, so I was worried I wouldn’t make it through.” Elena is ethnically Greek. Her father is a citizen of Greece. How much Greekness does a person need? What gives anyone the right to decide who looks Greek? Why should dark hair and features define Greek ethnicity for all time either? This is textbook orientalism! It’s also idolatry, which grieves the heart of God. People aren’t statues. We can’t paint our oriental fantasies on them. God loves variety in human beings, who have been created in his image. Why don’t we?
Unlike Elena, I have dark hair. Would I look “Greek enough” to a film producer? No. However, I may not look English, Irish, or Cherokee enough either. Yet why should my ethnicity fit their stereotypes? Only DNA counts, not someone’s idea of what Irish or Cherokee people should look like. After four millennia of “interracial” marriage, which has increased in the last two centuries, few people are ethnically “pure” anyway. So we can’t always identify a person’s ethnic background just by looking at them, especially if one genetic strain – Egyptian, Native American, Japanese, etc – doesn’t predominate. Ethnic features aren’t set in stone either, so there are many varieties of “Greek.” Hitler sought a “pure” Germany through blue eyes and blond hair, exterminating dark-headed and brown-eyed Jews who were also German. What makes orientalizing Hollywood any better? Do moviegoers really need to see “pure” Greeks?
I wish Elena hadn’t granted the producers’ wish about her hair, but she may not have had a choice. Elena can still use Greek Wedding 2 as a vehicle to teach fans what it means to be Greek, regardless of physical appearances.
A message to Elena: You don’t need to “look” Greek in order to be Greek. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. God gave you blonde hair and blue eyes, and he loves you just the way you are.