Who can tell whose story and why the story is more important that the teller?

by Randy G. Chard on November 29, 2017 - 9:54am

This blog post concerns the telling of stories and who can tell them.

The main films that this post will focus on are "Half of a Yellow Sun" and "Rhymes for Young Ghouls".

The former film is based on the Biafran War told from the perspective of the ruling Igbo people and how the class clash between the Igbo and the Hausa tears a country apart and millions die in the process.

The latter film, on the Canadian residential school system and its intergenerational effects is told from and by indigenous people.

It is obvious that these two films have a very obvious voice that needs to be spoken by those that it affected most. What I am not sure about is if those affected people are the only ones that can produce the film that tells that particular story.

This is not to say that the voice should change but the person making the film does not in my mind need to be from the group that the story is about. I do believe that if the director uses people from the group affected and gets buy-in from the community then that is all that is required.

I think that what I also want to say is that it is one thing to highlight a historical injustice from that person’s or groups perspective, with a view to understanding how and why it continues to cause problems for some groups and not for others, and why it is at the bottom of ongoing conflict and resentment. Once we do that, then we have to go on and work out what we have to do to resolve the issue, how we resolve it, what compensation should be made and how the parties involved can reconcile and go forward together in the future.

It is not enough to highlight an historical injustice if nothing is done to resolve it or learn something from it. A danger lies in individuals, communities or even an entire country wallowing in this victim mentality. That there are organisations, charities and politicians which will exploit that injustice in that nation and across the globe in some way for money or for territory at the expense of another community or country is even a bigger issue, and one that should be looked at intensely.

Victim mentalities arising from past historical suffering can be pernicious in turning a past victim into a future oppressor or a ruthless avenger. But highlighting the negatives can also bring the cause for which the film brings forward into the light - and illuminating the evil behind the negatives can shrink it or destroy it. I agree that history must be taken into account especially when it comes to matters that are now affecting nations negatively.

Yet, what I see is not unifying condemnation being built against the past and indeed current oppressors. What I see is neo-Nazi groups forming, far right parties gaining power, and racism being taken up by a lot of people who do not have any historical knowledge of the atrocities that were carried out by our nation and all other colonial powers. And the movies, books and arts that highlight these histories are just increasing their resentment towards their victims. That is not to say that we should not speak up about these past injustices but we must be aware of those all-important “unintended consequences”.

I want to see a different approach, because so far crying foul hasn't worked, and at the same time it has rallied support for the far right, whilst making the minorities more isolated.