This short film is about two British girls and their lived experiences of being an ethnic young person in multicultural Britain.
Ameera is a British / Pakistani / Punjabi girl raised in Brighton. Her story is interesting because while she went through traumatic experiences in the name of culture, that if anything perpetuates a pre-existing stereotype of Asian women, shows how it is only the people of these nations that should be the ones dominating the narrative. That this narrative is solely dependent on the agency of those who it affects.
Alex is from Bristol and comes from a Jamaican and White British background. Her perspective includes reflections on her sense of self as she grew up trying to position her heritage within a tight-knit Jamaican community, a majority white school, and somewhere between the two in Bristol. She eloquently weaves her impressive knowledge of world history and situates it within Britain and her own life.
The experience of producing this film helped me come to terms in the ways that I myself carry white privilege. As someone who is what many would call ‘white passing’, I cannot say that I necessarily experienced the same things that they did growing up. I certainly did as a spectator, and as someone who shamefully internalised a lot. But mostly, through seeing my own mother be the butt of a joke that could not always be applied to me. And yet, our shared understanding of having deep emotional ties to our respective cultures, as well as mixed feelings towards our country of birth, helped to form intimate and honest conversations about navigating the blurry boundary between ‘home’ and home.
One of my biggest fears was being unable to communicate the girls’ frustrations to the target audience: people in a position where they do not understand or identify with these problems. Depictions of non-white subjects, within anthropology and otherwise, tend to offer a ‘sympathetic ear’ to their trials and tribulations, that essentially fall into the trap of fetishised vision. This is a major cause of anger and frustration amongst communities whose narrative is overruled by those with a vice-like grip on coffee table books. Visual anthropology has pushed forward a means to counteract a hegemony of photography as a type of ‘gaze’ that only reinforces this. Farris, on photography, questions “But what is not represented? What is outside the frame? What are the silences to be listened (watched) for?” Such was my anxiety during the filming and editing process, but simultaneously, is the exact medium which liberates me from the constrains of photographic story telling.
It is predominately through sound, or as Henley coined it, environmental effects, that I used as heavily as the visuals. Effects aid in enhancing the ways the film maker can propose to the audience their own version of events, and give authority to them and their interpretation of the subjects, by including the use of the background noise. The opening scene that introduces both Alex and Ameera relies on the environmental soundscape to slowly ease the viewer into the topics to be explored, and attempts to communicate, without words, their individual personalities. Elsewhere, I wanted to use the suddenity of Ameera's presence to juxtapose the gentleness of the opening scene using the sound of birds, to draw parallels between the two scenarios, to make hints to her gentle nature, and to also stir up something within the viewer.
With photography, no matter how candid a photo may be, there will always be a sense of performance, whether this is through the lighting, the angle, how the picture is processed, captioned, etc. However, when a camera is in a continuous shooting mode, you are able to pick up on the nuances of a person, and manipulate audio and visuals, that is somehow still an honest representation of them. It will always be a representation, but it still baffles me that I could completely switch over a recorded conversation, send it to them, and they'll be happy that it’s just and dignified.
Likewise, I am too ready to admit that the moment one has a camera in their hand, one automatically receives a new lease of power. You can be amicably close to the person, but when it is you with the means of capturing, you ultimately think of your own interests first, as innocent as they may be. Through this experience I was finally in a position where I could appreciate the difficulty in conforming to the subject’s expectations, your own, and the constraints of a time limit. The pain of having to choose to cut one emotionally raw story or another, also taught me the harshness of storytelling. You just cannot show the whole picture.
What I wish to do is to open up people’s minds to re think the things they thought they knew about sharing a space within a multicultural country. Too often, and I too am guilty of this, we take this fact for granted, and it can lend us a visor to the work that still needs to be done to erase an imperialist mentality. And too often, sadly, are opportunities missed on giving voice to the very people who make up this country.
My hope for this film is that it calls out and addresses the ways that we are innocently blind to the multitude of patronising, selfish and greedy ways that society, as a system, continues to disregard people that do not fit into standard forms of behaviour. It calls out appropriation of beauty and cultural endowments, while trying to explain to the audience why this offends the people from its origins. Without judgement, I want to invite to audience to listen to Alex and Ameera as they explore these themes, in a visual manner that allows for deeper appreciation than stand-alone texts can ever do.