I went to a Refugee Action charity event at the British Film Institute the other night. It was a screening and panel discussion that explored the portrayal of refugees in the cinema. It was really inspiring – emotional, educational, frightening and surprisingly funny.
Yes the representation of refugees across the films was always tragic, but less about victims and more often about heroes. Yes of course it was noted how refugees were often represented as different, as ‘the other’, but within the film clips that Refugee Action/BFI had chosen to show were the moments where filmmakers had deliberately attempted to present refugees to the cinema going community as people with shared experiences that we could relate to. These films helped us to understand difference but also celebrate the ‘sameness’ of people with very different backgrounds and experiences – the same normal stuff like laughter, boredom and a love of Beckham.
And I guess in the discussions afterwards I found this the most powerful thing. I said in my piece on Jack Wills earlier this week that creating strong communities depends not just on knowing who you stand for but also who you stand against, those you want to include and those you don’t. And the media in this country generally does a very good job of creating a sense of the fixed British community defending against an new invasion from a foreign alien comunity.
So of course the role of organisations like Refugee Action is a difficult one – to help us to understand that that refugees are in fact a collection of individuals and families just like us who have, through no fault of their own, been forced to leave their own communities. People who more often than not are hopeful that they can play a contributing part in our own, historically fluid and evolving, community here in Britain. Refugee Action tries through its ongoing campaigning and communication to find ways to help bring people together on common ground rather than to create division through fear of difference. I just read a Mori poll this morning commissioned by the charity asking Refugees about their experiences in Britain. And it turns there is indeed a lot we have in common – a love of British food, football and the X Factor. This poll took place before we were knocked out on Sunday. Be interesting to know whether refugees fall out of love as quickly as we do.