In the age of globalisation, diasporic and other types of transnational family are increasingly represented on film, yet they have been neglected in film studies. This research project makes a pioneering contribution to transnational film studies and complements existing scholarship on the representation of fathers, mothers and the family in Hollywood cinema by offering the first systematic study of the diasporic family in contemporary European cinema. Focusing on the most established diasporic film cultures in Europe, Black and Asian British, Maghrebi French and Turkish German, the project examines some seventy key films made between the mid-1980s and the present. These films have evolved from migration movements from Europe’s former colonies to imperial ‘mother countries’ and other labour migrations since the 1950s. The shift from primary migration to family reunion in the 1970s turned temporary immigrants into permanent settlers. Without family migration the kind of diasporic film culture that emerged when second-generation immigrant filmmakers came of age and gained access to the means of film production, could never have come into existence. Many diasporic family films draw on the filmmakers’ own experience of being born or raised in the country to which their parents migrated.
As cinema tends to depict social conflicts and historical transitions indirectly through affective relations in the family, the diasporic family on screen crystallises the emotionally ambivalent response to immigration and growing cultural diversity in western societies. Constructed as other on account of their ethnicity, language and religion, diasporic families are perceived as a threat to the social cohesion of western host societies. In particular the traditional Muslim patriarch embodies an excess of alterity in many films, which reflects growing anxieties about Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism after 9/11. Conversely, the diasporic family is nostalgically imagined as a traditional family characterised by extended nurturing kinship networks and superior family values that contrast with the fragmentation and alleged crisis of the hegemonic family.
In contrast to films by first-generation immigrant or majority culture filmmakers, which are often based on racialised dichotomies, more recent examples of diasporic family films tend to privilege dialogism and cultural hybridity. They critically interrogate the relationship between the margin and the centre and call dominant Eurocentric assumptions about majority and minority cultures, Europe and its others, into question. Inter-ethnic marriages, the formation of alternative families based on elective affinities instead of bloodline and descent and the ‘coming out’ of queer diasporic sons and daughters, are prominent themes that challenge an essentialist understanding of identity.
The films’ diasporic optic, borne out of the filmmakers’ multiple affiliations and ambivalent sense of belonging, manifests itself in the hybridization of generic conventions, narrative and musical traditions, languages and performance styles that fuse aesthetic traditions from more than one (film)culture. These innovative aesthetics, coupled with the universal appeal of family stories, is an important strategy that has enabled a number of diasporic family films, in particular comedies, to break out of the ethnic niche and into the mainstream.