Migrant and Diasporic Cinema in Contemporary Europe

Migrant and Diasporic Cinema in Contemporary Europe

HARC Lecture ‘Citizens of Two Worlds’

Daniela Berghahn was invited to give a lecture entitled 'Citizens of Two Worlds: Hybrid Identity Formation in Diasporic Coming-of-Age Films' in the HARC Lecture Series 'Cinema and Citizenship', convened by Professor Mandy Merck, who is currently HARC Fellow at the Humanities and Arts Research Centre at Royal Holloway, University of London. 

Click here for a podcast of the lecture she gave on 17 March 2009. 

Coming-of-age films, a loosely defined sub-genre of the youth film, centre on the transition from childhood to adolescence or from adolescence to adulthood. This transition usually occurs as a result of a formative experience (first love, separation, death) or a rite-of-passage (test of courage, graduation) and normally results in a fundamental choice the protagonist has to make. In this paper I argue that coming-of-age narratives occupy a central position in the work of diasporic filmmakers for two reasons: firstly, the preponderance of coming-of-age films can be attributed to a semi-autobiographical impulse. Directors and scriptwriters Meera Syal (Anita & Me, 2002), Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham, 2002), Ayub Khan Din (East is East, 1999) and Soraya Nini (Samia, 2000) underscored their films’ authenticity by making reference to their own biographies as second or third generation immigrants who have experienced the challenges and opportunities of growing up between or in two cultures; and secondly, diasporic youth operate as a mediator between cultural difference and seemingly irreconcilable ethnic dichotomies, thus functioning as tropes of hybridity in public discourse and popular culture.  

 What distinguishes coming-of-age films set in a multicultural milieu from those set in a milieu in which race and ethnicity are normalised – and thus invisible and, presumably, socially irrelevant – is that generation conflict, a common plot device in many coming-of-age dramas, is doubly charged because it is conflated with culture conflict. While parents (usually first generation immigrants) uphold the values and traditions of their culture of origin, the children actively affiliate with the cultural norms of the country of residence. Growing up in plural worlds, these citizens of two worlds develop hybrid identities, which connect them with and, ideally, allow them to prosper in two cultures.

In European diasporic coming-of-age films hybrid identity formation is performed through switching between ‘ethnic’ and ‘western’ dress codes and languages – Arabic and French, Turkish and German, Hindi, Punjabi or Urdu and English. The films’ soundtracks underscore the multiethnic, or rather, the postethnic milieu in which the protagonists grow up, while at the same time contributing to the crossover appeal of the diasporic youth film.

Posted by Daniela Berghahn on 22 Mar 2009 •

Last edited: 22 03 2009 - Designed by PageToScreen