Film and offence

Much of the discussion this first week – to set up the filmmaking for the rest of the project – has focused on what makes a film good and what makes it ‘not so good’. This is, for sure, a question of its quality (narrative, aesthetic, production etc) but, more than this, of its power to connect or disconnect with spectators via its ‘truth’, ideology, its relationship to stereotypes, its capacity to demean, to offend. Such issues lie at the heart of spectatorship theory and cultural studies and more, and I’ve been teaching and writing about them for quite a while now. As suspected (indeed aimed for) they take on richer meaning in the University classroom in the West Bank.

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One of the groups at An-Najah National University in Nablus

The pleasure in Hollywood and aggravation at its racist depiction of arabs, was especially alive in our workshop in Nablus yesterday. A love of mainstream entertainment cohabits with distaste at its Islamophobia. Stuart Hall’s negotiated readings are commonplace here as everywhere. But discussing identity and offence is especially meaningful when an ostensibly white British woman (and this is the least complex way of describing myself) provokes debate about race, religion and morality/ethics with a room of Palestinian young men and young women of whom many are veiled. Morality, as laws of right and wrong from religion or from our society’s religion-based moral codes, was juxtaposed with notions of a shared ethics that reflects upon and responds to such laws and more, to distinguish a common set of human values. These are hot topics indeed – topical and perilous –  and I can’t wait to see how or if they influence the stories the participants might tell.

Managing offence is a fundamental part of negotiated readings. It is also, of course, a fundamental part of negotiated living. Shifting our awareness to the latter in film studies (and life ; ) might, I suspect, prove very fruitful.

 

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