Masking, Blurring, Replacing: Can the Undocumented Migrant Have a Face in Film?
Christine Bischoff, Francesca Falk, Sylvia Kafehsy (eds.): Images of Illegalized Immigration. Towards a Critical Iconology of Politics. Bielefeld 2010 (transcript Verlag) pp. 111-127
18 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2020
Date Written: 2013
The question whether the undocumented migrant can have a face in film is at first glance not a question of aesthetics. It is their social and legal condition, not aesthetics, which prevent undocumented migrants from showing their face. But the question becomes more complex if we take into account, that films are a part of the migration regime. It works like a vicious circle: The migration regime forces undocumented migrants to conceal their face. But the image of a face not only helps to identify and trace a specific person, it also helps the spectator to identify with the person’s needs and feelings, to recognize a person’s condition as a human being. Therefore to protect the migrant’s identity at the same time can easily produce a de-humanizing discriminatory effect on the migrant that strengthens the hostile perception of and policies against undocumented migrants. From this point of view, the aesthetic question how a film shows or does not show the faces of undocumented migrants is a highly political issue and the filmmakers’ ethical responsibility.
In the article we identify different strategies of visual representation of undocumented migrants in (independent) documentary films that go beyond the black-barred face that makes them appear as criminals. We consider these alternative aesthetic strategies an important contribution to antiracist and pro-immigrant struggles. Nevertheless, the line between policing and criminalizing modes of representation and more empowering and appreciating ways can be a thin one.
Keywords: undocumented migration, visual representation, documentary film, migration regime
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