Diasporic Cinema

July 28, 2017 | Autor: T. LeBoomington | Categoria: Film Studies, Film Theory, Literature and cinema, Cinema, Master's Degree Dissertation
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Tristan Perquel

Student Number: 21166571

MA: Video Prod & Film Studies

Film and Media Cultures

TRISTAN PERQUEL 21166571 Dr Garin Dowd Tutor


Tristan Perquel

Student Number: 21166571

Table of Contents 1. Introduction to Essay

2. Diaspora

3. Diasporic Film

4. Beur Cinema

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography


MA: Video Prod & Film Studies

Tristan Perquel

Student Number: 21166571

MA: Video Prod & Film Studies

Introduction to Essay

How useful is the term ‘diaspora’ to the project of analysing film, television, or another medium?

This essay explores the notion of diaspora and its usefulness in analysing diasporic cinema in Western Europe, particularly France, home of beur cinema, a North African diaspora specific to French suburbs.


Tristan Perquel

Student Number: 21166571

MA: Video Prod & Film Studies


Diasporic cinema is becoming one of the most socially relevant cinema,

although neither coherent or organised, it has nonetheless had a massive social impact on Western nations, it is an “accented cinema both of exile and in exile”;

some examples include beur cinema in France, or black and Asian collectives in Britain, (Naficy, 2001:4-7) When looking at European transnational cinema, beur cinema appears to be quintessentially diasporic.

The term diaspora originated from the ancient Greek word diasperien,

which implies a scattering. It is the movement or migration of individuals away

from an ancestral homeland. A diaspora may also be defined as communities

distant from their ancestral home. Transnational communities like diasporas exist due to international migration, forced or voluntary. These migrations are

driven by political, socio-economic and colonial factors. (Cohen, 2008:15-17)

In antiquity diaspora referred to the exodus of the Jewish people from

Palestine. Later references to the term are related to the slave trade and forced

migration of West Africans to the Americas during the 16th century. In the last

century recognised diasporas have included the Palestinian and Armenian

migrations, and more recently shifts from South America, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe. Various factors have hastened the movement of individuals across








internationalisation of labour markets, along with the aggregate effects of political instability the world over, things such as ethnic strife and civil war, ecological ruin and the fall of transportation prices. (Cohen, 2008:20-24)

These elements, together with worsening poverty, account for the global

migration events at the start of the 21st century. Currently many millions of

people from the world over reside outside their country of origin and their destination of choice is usually North America or Western Europe. Globalisation and geopolitics, along with the increase of transnational media, tends to

accelerate diasporic formations. (Cohen, 2008) Constituting amalgamated 4

Tristan Perquel

Student Number: 21166571

MA: Video Prod & Film Studies

ethnicities, such as people with twin nationalities, diasporas disrupt the cultural

practices of the nations they occupy. These groups often challenge accepted ideas concerning Western modernity and nationhood, particularly social

constructs associated with citizenship. Diasporas usually entails communities that have failed to fully assimilate into host countries. (Cohen, 2008:27-38) They

can be differentiated from migrant communities by their relationship with the homeland. One important aspect of their relationship with home is the collective

memory of their homeland, regarded as their true home, to which they will

eventually return. They are committed to the idea of their homeland’s restoration; this idea of the homeland heavily influences their personal identity. (Safran, 1991) That is the main difference between diasporas and other migrant groups, one dreams of returning to an idealised home, whereas the others have fled their homeland often dreading return.

In recent times, however, references to the myth of the homeland, in the

classical definition of the diaspora, have become attenuated. In this day and age

we speak more of trans-ethnic and trans-border linguistic categories, such as

Francophone or Anglophone, or like the many entrenched religious diaporas of

the world. There are also references to the gay, digital, liberal or even white diasporas. (Brubaker, 2005:3)

Diasporic Cinema

The term diaspora initially established itself as a useful term in the study

of geopolitics. Practical in describing certain types of human migrations; it has now become a theoretical device in film theorisation among other fields that

explore and debate identity, transnationality, migration and nationalism.

Multicultural and multi-ethnic artists and concepts increasingly influence the world of Cinema. This is true all around the world, but is especially noticeable in Europe. The continuous processes of integration have driven this cultural shift. Geopolitical changes following the collapse of communism and the end of 5

Tristan Perquel

Student Number: 21166571

MA: Video Prod & Film Studies

colonialism has led to the arrival of migrant labourers and asylum seekers in search of an economically stable Europe. These socio-political evolutions mean

that the concept of identity and nationhood in Europe is becoming more and more challenged. This is echoed by the increasing number of films made by

migrant and diasporic filmmakers challenging traditional notions of the national and national identity. (Berghan, Sternberg ,2010)

The cultural presence of migrants is gradually shifting from the margins to

prominence as depictions of migrant and diasporic identities are achieving a

greater renown in cinema. Recently French beur and banlieue cinema have had

considerable critical success, enthralling mainstream audiences along the way.

However, migrant and diasporic cinema in modern Europe is by no means

restricted to those high-profile groups. The contribution of transnationally

mobile filmmakers from ex-Soviet countries, British Asian artists, and postcolonial African and Latin American cinema is equally important. But In France the greatest social effects were engendered by beur cinema. (Naficy, 2001:14-15)

The dislocating effects of migration, fractured identities and post-

colonialism are the main subject matter of beur cinema. This genre of film is

neither linguistically nor culturally consistent, instead it is highly fluid and always multilingual. Diasporic consciousness is scattered, it involves the home,

but also compatriot diasporas elsewhere in the world (Naficy, 2001:14). Hamid Naficy highlights important differences between diasporic, exilic, and

postcolonial filmmakers, who jointly encompass accented cinema and suggests

that they are in dialogue with mainstream and alternative cinemas. (Naficy, 2001:21)

Transnational and migratory movement have proven to be powerful

forces of social change. Portrayals of migrant and diasporic experiences and the

intricacies of life in a multicultural society have assumed prominence in

European cinema. Filmmakers with a background of migration have brought

about a cultural turn in European cinema by presenting new forms of narrative 6

Tristan Perquel

Student Number: 21166571

MA: Video Prod & Film Studies

expression and by merging different aesthetic traditions. (Berghan, Sternberg, 2010)

In the 1980s, in parallel to the emergence of a postcolonial diasporic

cinema, more intricate interpretations of national cinema have evolved in

response to the spread of transnational media and other multinational entities

such as corporations. (Naficy, 2001) National cinema is becoming harder to

define, withering borders and transnational migrant artists are seeing to that.

Diasporas make difficult the recognition of national identity and the nation as a bordered landmass. Diasporic cinema expresses a transcendent realism, in which the social experience of post-colonialism is made apparent. There is a growing

body of films that addresses this fracture sociale, especially in western societies; films that explore the gendered and marginalised lives of the underclass and the growing economic disproportions between social strata.

In Europe, significant progress was made in the recent decades

concerning the amalgamation of markets and the near disappearance of national borders. Yet, ethnicity continues to cause tensions in European culture, contrary

to the idea of an enlightened continent freed from the bigotry mentalities of the

past. And for years now the debate about the effects of globalisation on the European identity has been raging. Some scholars promote a more united, maybe even utopian, vision of Europe, one of empathetic pluralism. But these views are

marred by the development of right-wing nationalist movements arguing against the admission of foreigners into their countries. One example of this is in France, Le Pen’s Front National, which systematically targets North African immigration.

Conflicts in the Balkan region, persistent barriers to entry of Turkey into the

European Union, and growing hostility over immigration reveal other examples of national identity crisis. (Betts, 2010:31-32) This is exacerbated by the media coverage of the perceived problems of Islam such as the high rate of unemployed

Arab youths or that of young girls forced to wear burka or chadori by their retrograde relatives.

Southeast Asian, African, and Caribbean diasporas began disturbing the

predominantly Christian lineage of Europe whilst these European nations were 7

Tristan Perquel

Student Number: 21166571

MA: Video Prod & Film Studies

undergoing accelerated economic and political unification and considerable demographic fluctuations. These changes prompted diasporic filmmakers to look

at the émigrés existence with increasing frequency and in more depth. Diasporic

cinema often involves characters undergoing an identity crisis, alienated in their social environment; this is very true of beur cinema, in which fractured identities and social adjustment are prominent concepts. (Naficy, 2001)

Beur Cinema

A diasporic cinema specific to France has evolved in the past decades; this

cinema has been called beur cinema and more recently cinema de banlieue. It

explores the lives and apprehensions of diasporic communities that have settled in France. The term beur comes from the Parisian verlan from the French word

for Arab. The word typically refers to young, unemployed, second generation

Maghrebins, usually living in the banlieues or suburban council housing projects surrounding major French cities. Although popular with Anglo-Saxon theorist, in France it is a very cliché term that stopped being relevant during in 90s. The

antiquated term beur focused on the Maghreb diasporas, the new concept of

cinema de banlieue includes transnational filmmakers from a wider variety of

backgrounds. These other diasporas usually also originate from France’s ex-

colonies such as former Indochina, the Caribbean and Africa. (Tarr, 2005:3)

The beur diaspora became better known during the late 70s during rising

racial tensions, brought about in part by French de-colonisation. The surge in

right-wing extremist movements such as the Front National, and the increase in debates concerning immigration and assimilation into France began the

tendency to ostracise immigrants into diasporas on the periphery of the city.

Beurs increasingly became the most stigmatized ethnic minority in France, due in large part to the aftermath of the Algerian War and the subsequent unravelling of French colonial power. (Betts, 2010:31-33) 8

Tristan Perquel

Student Number: 21166571

MA: Video Prod & Film Studies

Beur films are frequently realist storylines with contemporary applicability; these stories are relevant to all in France because of our shared language and

colonial heritage. Persistently explored concepts include the realities of unemployment, crime and poverty, the social aftermath of post-colonial racist

mentalities, the differences between Maghreb and French cultures; also of

interest is the tensions caused by uprootedness, deterritorialisation, nostalgia and the relationship with ancestral values and the homeland.

The cinema beur movement started with the release of Le thé au harem

d’Archimède (1985), written and directed by Mehdi Charef. This film follows

Madjid, a second generation Algerian, and his French friend Pat as they wander

in Paris and its banlieues. They are pursuing employment opportunities but this undertaking proves difficult mostly because of the racism of employers. Madjid is

anxious to find money because his father cannot work. Pat due to his lazy nature is also unable to find a job. So they resort to a life of crime, trying their hand a

numerous nefarious activities such as trafficking prostitutes and thieving. This

grim depiction of banlieue life seems to criticize French society for its apathy concerning the hardships of marginalised people. The first self-representation by beur directors, the film integrates the theme of conflicting identity in beur

culture, posing questions as to whether the nature of identity is inherently innate or something you choose. Charef challenges the one-dimensional French

stereotypes of beurs as either criminals or victims, allowing for a deeper comprehension of each individual’s identity. (Betts, 2010:33-34)

The film Bye-Bye (1995), directed by Karim Dridi, assesses a modern

French society which has become gradually multi-ethnic and with increasingly estranged classes. Bye-Bye recounts the confused and violent pilgrimage of

Ismael, a Franco-Maghrebin who takes his brother on a journey to their parents'

ancestral home in Tunisia. The film emphasizes two features of diasporic films:

the divide between the ancestral home and the host country, and the cultural

clash between conflicting identities. In this case a pluralist capitalist France and the Islamic traditions of their homeland. Ismael's indecisiveness towards the

homeland and his brother’s explicit dismissal of it highlights their generation's disconnection with traditional patriarchal family values. Unable to integrate in 9

Tristan Perquel

Student Number: 21166571

MA: Video Prod & Film Studies

French or in Maghreb culture, Ismael yearns for a place to call home; this highlights his identity crisis as a diasporic entity. (Tarr, 2005:79-84)

French films from the last couple of decades focus on young male

characters of Maghreb origin, drifting from family values and disconnected from

the ancestral homeland. Naficy writes on Beur cinema’s exploration of fractured identity, seeing how protagonists systematically realise that they don’t quite

belong, they are French but not quite, that they are Mahgrebin but not quite, they have no home. (Naficy, 2001:98) The characters portrayed in these films are

without significant family presences and are presented as an unruly menace, threatening to disrupt French cultural and social institutions. Probably the most

internationally recognised example of beur cinema, subsequently known as

banlieue cinema, is La Haine (1995), by Mathieu Kassovitz. The film as come to

epitomize banlieue cinema, social unrest and fractured identities for the French; and has brought international attention to the many other diasporic filmmakers of France. The ethnic subtext of the film is very strong, especially since the

friends are each of a different ethnicity but are all still faced with la haine; race and hate, disenfranchisement, social alienation, disconnection from family values

and the lack of a homeland. In its grim depiction of Paris and banlieue, La Haine is extremely critical of the French establishment’s apathy towards the woes of the marginalised. (Tarr, 2005:63-72)

Diasporic film in France, such as beur and banlieue cinema, presents

issues broached with difficulty and considered taboo; culture related issues, such

as the social effects of globalisation, conflicting identities and the immigration debate. Critics of immigration claim that immigration is harmful to European societal values. Many Europeans feel threatened by Islamist extremism and

socio-economic changes brought about by transnational labour markets.

Fortunately, the rising trend of nationalist politics and Islamophobia is countered by a rising push for multicultural tolerance. (Tarr, 2005:4-5)

Initially beur filmmaking was acclaimed and applauded for having

successfully shifted the gaze from the majority to the marginalised, therefore

providing a new perspective, that of the immigrant. Yet, there is an important 10

Tristan Perquel

Student Number: 21166571

MA: Video Prod & Film Studies

criticism of beur filmmaking related to both this perspective and to identity. The fact that this new perspective is labelled as beur filmmaking itself threatens to

lock these artists into projects that produce stereotypical work. In other words,

rather than allowing for varied, constantly changing identities, these artists become entrenched in the discourse of films about socio-economic difference and ethnicity.


Film plays an important role in portraying the complexity of identity

transformation, and it breeds understanding through the depictions of complex

identities. But the portrayal of ethnic identity has its limits in the ever-changing

social landscape. Thus beur cinema becomes cinema de banlieue so as to allow for the expression of multifaceted individuals. People want to be recognised as

talented artists, and not merely representatives of their diaspora. Films enable directors to present their versions of reality, but in order to have the freedom to

do this; they must not restrict themselves to specific ethnic dialogue. (Betts,


Works and representations of audio-visual art have done more to build

communities and raise understanding than any political action. Film connects

people across time and space, and redefines cultural markers to suit a new discourse of cultural identity. I believe that viewing the current climate of globalisation as a confrontation between different religious and cultural

divisions is shortsighted; it ignores the complexity of people’s identity and social constructs, reducing people to words like “Muslim” or “French,” which omits the countless ways in which people construct their multifaceted identities.

Diasporic film movements in Europe inspire another dialectal by which all

Europeans can reconcile their fractured identities, and create a new framework

for understanding transnationality. This will continue if notions of identity remain fluid, rather than static; stagnation would lead to the reproduction of 11

Tristan Perquel

Student Number: 21166571

MA: Video Prod & Film Studies

stereotypes, not the creation of new identities. Films can allow for an expression

of intricate identities based on fluidity rather than association to ethnicity or

nationality. In times of global socio-economic and political integration, as societies become complex multi-ethnic constructs it would seem as though

identities would benefit from formation by exposure to new concepts and situations. The evolution of global media has augmented and widened the

accessibility to personal expression, once silent voices can now express

themselves and be heard the world over by digital communities; this should be

hastening the processes of cultural integration and further dissolving natural borders.


Tristan Perquel

Student Number: 21166571

MA: Video Prod & Film Studies

Bibliography •

Berghahn, Daniela and Sternberg, Claudia. (2010) European Cinema in Motion

Migrant and Diasporic Film in Contemporary Europe, Palgrave Macmillan

European Integration," Macalester International: Vol. 22, Article 8.

Betts, Jalene (2009) "Identities in Migrant Cinema: The Aesthetics of

Brubaker, Roger (2005), The 'diaspora' diaspora, Ethnic and Racial

Studies Vol 28

Abingdon: Routledge.

France, Routledge

Cohen, Robin (2008). Global Diasporas: An Introduction (2nd ed.).

Hargreaves, Alec G, McKinney, Mark, (1997), Post-Colonial Cultures in Naficy, Hamid, (2001),

An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic

Filmmaking . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Safran, William, (1991), Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return. Diaspora 1, no. 1

Tarr, Carrie (2005), Reframing Difference: Beur and banlieue filmmaking in France, Manchester: Manchester University Press.


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