Racism in narratives: Thinking about Hurr and Portrayals of Race

One of the things, that I will touch on more in my next post, that has come out of directing Hurr was the notion of the “crisis of representation”, which is my shorthand really for tying the ever decreasing  numbers of working class, minority ethnic and women artists who find a place to make their voices herd in art.

We don’t even have to go to critics, in the cultural criticism sense (i.e. some crazy marxists of freudians), to see arguments as to how the children of, what at least used to be called the haute bourgeoisie dominate the culture industries.  Lynn Garnder, for instance, has found herself asking to very pertinent rhetorical questions, Why Is Theatre so White, Male and Middle Class? as well as, Is Theatre Run by Posh People for Posh People? I flatter myself that those reader who can’t till from my use of the word rhetorical in that last sense sentence where my answer would lie, will tell from the rest of the material they have read on this blog.

I will look at this issue more in my next blog posts, but for now I would like to give an example of the crisis of representation of race in this country.

Partly because Hurr dealt with issues around the war on terror in rehearsal and in workshops we started talking about portrayals of this so-called war in the mainstream media.  Whether we wanted to or not.

One of the things that came up in these conversations, especially with groups with an ethnic or religious tie to the MENA countries or the Islamic World was the portrayal of such, in films, TV, music, theatre and so on.  Just as we were finishing rehearsal, the TV Programme An Honourable Woman started on BBC.

In a workshop I was discussing this with some participants who enjoyed the programme, but still felt it made them uncomfortable.  After some discussion and exercises we began to come to an understanding of why this might be.  One of the things that strikes about working with Black communities is that the social exclusion of race means that consciousness raising creative work needs to be done before participates will really open up to a facilitator.

The first issue is that there is huge different between how Israeli and European characters on the one hand, and Arab or Palestinian characters on the other, are treated.  With the Israeli and European character, even their most hypocritical, immoral or brutal acts and dispositions are rationalise through reference to their previous life and experiences.  In this way the series calls to mind the notion that Slavoj Zizek explored in his review of Munich: The Israeli characters are granted a sense of subjectivity; though they exist as morally ambitious, indeed fully human, subjects, struggling with the violence and death they must create, the Palestinian characters just kill.  They don’t get any looking into the middle distance moments, or existential smoking shots, the visual language that shows us that a character is trying to deal with what they have to do.  Its interesting that in basically no mainstream TV program or film about the war on terror or the middle east does an Arab, Iranian or Turkish character get this moment.

You might ask why I seem to have a bit of an issue with what basically seems quite happy to be a slick thriller quite happy with its BBC middle brow status, but there Another way that this form of representation effects stories about the middle east and the war on terror is even more obvious than in Hollywood films in An Honourable Woman.  Just looking at the portrayal of Jews in the story, its striking that the Jewish characters towards whom one is supposed to feel the most connection, the genuine subjectives of the narrative, look the least like stereotypically Jewish people.  As well as the anti Arab racism that we see all around us, the story manages to actually pretty anti semitic as well, in so far as there are many figures of the “shady Jewish businessmen”.

When we started rehearsing and developing Hurr, one of the big questions for me was could we make the decision to play and cast colour blind work.  I am not claiming that I have made my final statement on this, but in the context of this crisis of representation in mainstream narrative art, and the brutal everyday racism of a lot of portrayals of the middle east, I’m certain we were moving in the right direction.




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