”De Margin and De Centre”: Repositioning Race and Ethnicity in Diasporic European Cinema

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This paper draws on Kobena Mercer and Isaac Julien’s seminal essay ‘De margin and de centre’, published as the introduction to ‘The Last “Special Issue” on Race’ in the journal Screen in 1988. Mercer and Julien’s declared aim was 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 filmic representations of race and ethnicity would no longer be assigned a special issue because that in itself is indicative its marginalisation.
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 (Handsworth Songs, Looking for Langston) over ‘the cinema of duty’ (Pressure), which frames ethnic minority themes in accordance with the aesthetic and narrative conventions of the social problem film, to popular genres. While comedies about sprawling ethnic minority families (Bend It Like Beckam, East is East, Almanya – Welcome to Germany) have enjoyed the greatest crossover 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 entirely unrelated to race and ethnicity (McQueen’s Hunger and Shame, 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 ethnic minority filmmaking which Mercer and Julien had envisaged some twenty-five years ago.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMedia, Margins and Popular Culture
EditorsHeather Savigny, Jenny Alexander, Einar Thorsten
Place of PublicationBasingstoke
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-137-51281-9
ISBN (Print)978-1-137-51280-2, 978-1-349-56631-0
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2015


  • race
  • ethnicity
  • European cinema
  • diasporic cinema
  • black British cinema
  • Maghrebi French cinema
  • Turkish German cinema
  • British Asian cinema

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