Monday, 03 February 2020 15:34

UK – Laurence Fox Makes Incorrect and Disrespectful Claims about Sikhs’ Role in World War I

Talking to James Delingpole on his podcast, actor Laurence Fox comments on the recently released film ‘1917’, making disrespectful and incorrect claims about Sikh soldiers during World War I. This is the UK’s media monitoring highlight for January.

This article is part of the Media Monitoring Highlights of January, a monthly overview of the most significant results of our monitoring of traditional and new media in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and the United Kingdom.

Laurence Fox DelingpodDate of publication: 17 January 2020

Media outlet: Delingpole podcast, hosted by James Delingpole, an English writer, journalist, and columnist who has written for a number of publications, including the Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, and The Spectator.

Public figure: Laurence Fox


Description of the anti-Sikh content: On the Delingpole podcast, host James Delingpole and British actor Laurence Fox were discussing a variety of topics, one of which was diversity. Fox commented the following: "It's very heightened awareness of the colour of someone's skin because of the oddness in the casting. Even in 1917 they've done it with a Sikh soldier, which is great, it's brilliant, but you're suddenly aware there were Sikhs fighting in this war. And you're like, 'OK, you're now diverting me away from what the story is'." Delingpole then continued the discussion, talking about the supposed “shoehorning” (to force into an inadequate space) of different ethnicities in film, with Fox responding: “It is kind of racist – if you talk about institutional racism, which is what everyone loves to go on about, which I’m not a believer in, there is something institutionally racist about forcing diversity on people in that way. You don’t want to think about [that].” At the end of the episode, Fox reverts back to the ‘1917’ film, expressing that he enjoyed watching it, to which Delingpole responds: “apart from the gratuitous Sikh.” Fox then said: “He’s great in it as well, it didn’t bother me, but it did sort of flick me out of what is essentially a one-shot film… it’s just incongruous with the story.” The film they are referring to is 1917, directed by Sam Mendes, which is set during World War I. 

Myth debunked: It is clear that Fox did not have the proper historical knowledge to make the claim that a Sikh soldier being portrayed in a World War I film is “incongruous with the story.” As many were quick to point out, Sikh soldiers played a vital role during the war, with one soldier in every six in the British Army being Indian, with Sikhs comprising one-fifth of the Indian contingent when the war began. Therefore, including them in the 1917 film is only logical. In this light, both Fox’s and Delingpole’s remarks are extremely disrespectful to the Sikh soldiers who fought in the war. In response to the comments made during the podcast, many took to Twitter to share stories and images of Sikh soldiers who fought during the war. Actor Rahul Kohli responded to the film: “1917 moved me in many ways. One way I wasn’t expecting was the inclusion of Indian soldiers, something many war films seem to neglect. I sat in the theatre with tears in my eyes at the mere sight of a Sikh soldier. I knew representation mattered, I just didn’t know how much.” It is clear that the inclusion of the Sikh soldier in 1917 is not only historically accurate, but also an important step in representation.

Following the backlash Fox apologised, stating: “Fellow humans who are Sikhs: I am as moved by the sacrifices your relatives made as I am by the loss of all those who die in war, whatever creed or colour. Please accept my apology for being clumsy in the way I have expressed myself over this matter in recent days.” In this case, we cannot talk about intent: it seems likely that Fox made claims on a matter he was not well informed on. But these actions have consequences and affect minority groups who are already underrepresented, and it is therefore vital to expose and correct these mistakes. 

More to read:

Fact-checking 1917: how historically accurate is Sam Mendes's First World War film? 

The truth behind 1917's Sikh soldier: Troops from the Empire DID fight in same regiments as the British

Laurence Fox’s ‘clumsy’ criticism of 1917 is good for British Sikhs

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