'De margin and de centre': Repositioning race and ethnicity in diasporic European cinema

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference


Keynote address at the annual MeCCSA conference, organised by the Media School of Bournemouth University in 2014. The conference theme is 'Media and the Margins'.

In their seminal introduction to ‘The Last “Special Issue” on Race’, published in the journal Screen in 1988, Kobena Mercer and Isaac Julien state that their aim is to break up ‘structures that determine what is regarded as culturally central and what is regarded as culturally marginal’. According to their programmatic vision, in future race would no longer be assigned a special issue because that in itself is indicative its marginalisation. They were not alone in asserting that cinema plays a pivotal role in destabilising long-established hierarchies in the cultural representation of race and ethnicity. Stuart Hall (1991), too, has celebrated the moment when diasporic ethnic minority filmmakers gained access to the means of film production and, thereby, self-representation as ‘the most profound cultural revolution [that came…] about as a consequence of the margins coming into representation’. Considering examples from black and Asian British, Maghrebi French and Turkish German cinema, this paper explores to what extent diasporic ethnic minority filmmaking has accomplished the shift from ‘de margin’ to ‘de centre’ that Mercer and Julien called for. I argue that the gradual mainstreaming of diasporic cinema occurred in four, albeit overlapping, phases, which include the shift from experimental collective filmmaking over ‘the cinema of duty’ (Malik 1996), which frames ethnic minority themes in accordance with the aesthetic and narrative conventions of the social problem film, to popular genres. While comedies (Bend It Like Beckam, East is East, Almanya – Welcome to Germany) have enjoyed the greatest cross-over appeal, other genres have also been productively adopted and hybridised, notably road movies (Le Grand Voyage), gangster films (Outside the Law) and war films (Days of Glory). More recently, diasporic filmmakers have begun to shed ‘the burden of representation’ (Mercer 1990) by engaging with themes unrelated to race and ethnicity (Arslan’s Western Gold, Kechiche’s lesbian love story Blue is the Warmest Colour). The freedom to make films about any subject is arguably the clearest indication of the normalisation of race, which Mercer and Julien had envisaged some twenty-five years ago.
Period8 Jan 201410 Jan 2014
Event typeOther


  • diasporic cinema
  • ethnic minorities in cinema
  • marginality
  • representation of race and ethnicity in cinema
  • British Asian cinema
  • Black British cinema
  • Maghrebi French cinema
  • Turkish German cinema