Crashing into the heartening Korean Wave (Hallyu)

Crashing into the heartening Korean Wave (Hallyu)



Crashing into the heartening Korean Wave (Hallyu)

children playing in rubble in Yemen
deepthi suresh stand news

2nd March 2021


Hallyu is a Chinese term that, when translated, literally means ‘Korean Wave’. It is a collective term used to refer to the phenomenal growth of Korean culture and popular culture overseas. The wave includes everything from music (K-pop), movies, online games, and Korean cuisine, to name a few. In 2012, President Obama, on his third visit to South Korea, even referred to the term in his speech at the Hankuk University, which struck a positive chord among the students on an otherwise policy laden speech. The rapid growth and spread of Hallyu has been a blessing for South Korea and helped to pave the way to develop its ‘soft power’.


I ventured into watching K-Dramas thanks to the uncertain times all of us were forced to face since early last year. Amidst lockdown, while stuck at home with nobody around, streaming websites became a friendly place to escape. ‘Crash Landing on You,’ as the title suggests, was an unplanned accident. What caught my eye was the fact that the story was about South and North Korea. The hugely successful show is a pleasant adventure that allows you to savour precious, heartfelt moments of romance, family, friendship, and food!


So, what is the show about?

A South-Korean heiress/business executive crash lands in North Korea after her paraglider is caught in a freak tornado. She ends up falling out of a tree, straight into the arms of a North Korean army captain. The captain, instead of turning her in, agrees to keep her safe and help her return home. The popular series- whose writers include a defector from the North- has earned worthy praise for its nuanced portrayal of North Koreans who were often otherwise depicted as stereotyped drab caricatures. It is interesting to note that the North Korean writer in the writing team had until 2004 served with the Supreme Guard Command, the elite security force which protects North Korea’s ruling Kim family. He was even assigned to work overseas. On one such trip back to Pyongyang, he found out that one of his friends in Moscow had reported to their bosses in Pyongyang what he had said in a private conversation which would have got him into trouble. So, he decided to defect alone, leaving behind his wife and son in North Korea, explains BBC Korea’s Subin Kim. Kwak had spent time learning about filmmaking in the 1980s. The North Korean film industry was booming back then because of the then-leader Kim Jong Il’s well-known love of art. Kwak, having undergone part of his resettlement process in South Korea, had mentioned his skills in filmmaking and was soon referred to a famous filmmaker by South Korea’s spy agency, and the rest has been history.


“the writers have taken enough interest and care to showcase an eye-opening account of the village life involving a group of women who eventually prove to be loyal to each other hence succeeding in squashing the typical portrayal of North Korea as an emotionless place.”


There are numerous daily chores and habits we take for granted, like a hot shower in the winter months. But for a North Korean, bathing in winter meant hanging plastic sheets over a tub of hot water to create a steam bath. ‘Crash Landing on you’ brought back childhood memories of a North Korean defector Noel Kim who says, ‘ That’s how I took a bath my whole life, especially in winter when water is scarce’ in a YouTube video. Most defectors have said that the drama is 60 per cent accurate in portraying North Korea and has been thus garnering praises across Asia and the United States. The show carefully ensures to treat with respect the otherwise easy material for stereotyped comedy wherein a wealthy South Korean woman is forced to live in a North Korean village. Therefore, the writers have taken enough interest and care to showcase an eye-opening account of the village life involving a group of women who eventually prove to be loyal to each other hence succeeding in squashing the typical portrayal of North Korea as an emotionless place. Some of the scenes from the TV show depict the marvel and surprise North Korean defectors may experience. These scenes are not portrayed to show the materialistic life of Seoul but rightly points at something much more than that, which is sheer excitement. The elites of Pyongyang proudly modelling various European designer goods takes the viewer to a completely different side of North Korea. The rich-poor divide is a harsh reality, and it seems as though it is no different in North Korea as well.


Although this sensational drama got most defectors excited, some have accused ‘Crash Landing on You’ of glamorising North Korea. A common example cited is that the villagers in North Korea seem to have plenty of food but, food shortages have been a recurring problem. Characters of K-Dramas are often featured eating together and scenes are rarely edited allowing mundane real conversations to carry forward the narrative. Korean dramas are extremely slow-paced and often actors miss out on their breaks. Hence, ‘eating scenes’ are conveniently added to the screenplay which allows actors to eat scrumptious meals albeit on-screen. Despite, the occasional criticism, this show brings in a fresh take on the portrayal of North Korea and encourages the audience to understand the complex yet lovable and relatable people and is a must watch if you have the time!


Crash Landing on You is available on Netflix and you can watch the trailer here.



Featured Photo from Netflix


Venturing into non-English TV shows and movies

Venturing into non-English TV shows and movies



Venturing into non-English TV shows and movies

a selection of movie and tv posters
olivia moore

Sophia Finucane

21st February 2021


Parasite director, Bong Joon-ho, while accepting his Golden Globe, commented that “Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” Hopefully, this had an impact on audiences’ willingness to venture into non-English language film and television during the lockdown period, while various streaming platforms such as Mubi and the Criterion Channel gained popularity with the closure of cinemas. According to the European Commission Media, 56% of film viewers said they streamed films from free websites while 68% said they downloaded free files to store on personal drives, so it is clear that streaming and online media viewing are key to viewership in 2021. The last theatre showings before the world changed did include features such as Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, a film in majority Mandarin Chinese, which gained popularity, but arguably there has still not been enough exploration of non-English language media in this era when it is more accessible than ever.


Now, with all this extra time, is surely the ideal opportunity to avail of the Criterion Collection (provided one has a VPN), to explore classic mainstays of ‘foreign film’ -whatever that means in a global world- like the works of Andrei Tarkovsky. While it may be perceived as mind-bending and baffling by some, Tarkovsky’s infamous Stalker’s existentialism is quite apt for the nature of these strange times, and its arguably quite hopeful ending provides a sense of solidarity and human resilience. Perhaps a lesson from the introspective nature of the Soviet filmmaker is that we all have a somewhat common psyche, which is surely essential to note at this time. If the genre is not your cup of tea, however, you can achieve more of a cinematic hug, still with a profound message on life, in the films of Yasujirō Ozu. Around in the 1950s, following a very dark period for Japan as a result of the devastating atom bombs dropped on two of its cities, Ozu meditated, in beautiful colours and compositions, on family, growing up, and the changing nature of the zeitgeist. With themes this universal, perhaps cultural differences are not as overt as some may think, and subtitles are not such a barrier overall. (It is important to note that dubbing is always an option for the visually-impaired, also.)


However, of course the price of the VPN and Criterion Channel itself is needed for that. As students, why not turn to Mubi, which is free for many studying arts and humanities with the use of university login details, and arguably has an even better availability of smaller and more international directors than Criterion. All of Federico Fellini’s films are on there currently, in excellent quality, which is such a gift to any young film fan. That is merely the beginning though, as the website has a large catalogue that changes once a month to reveal more hidden gem documentaries, shorts and feature films, by directors young and old from all over the world. Film can be both education and entertainment, and why not open the scope for that by exploring streaming services like this that push international classics and lesser-known works to their home pages?


“The need for subtitles most certainly does not get in the way when the writing is so good, and it is such a shame for audiences to miss out on such quality for that reason.”


In fairness though, some of us simply want to binge-watch shows, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Anyone who was a teen around 2016 may remember the sudden popularity of the Norwegian Skins-style show, Skam, amongst young audiences in the UK and Ireland. People were finding any links they could get their hands on to watch the show, proving that the “1-inch-tall barrier” is not truly standing in the way of audiences being entertained. The nature of Skam, as a piece that young people in the 2010’s could truly identify with, and it’s huge popularity, said something about how sometimes opening audiences up to international programmes provides what our own TV is lacking, which can be crucial for tales of racial equality and LGBTQ+ acceptance. Going off of this point, one to watch right now on Netflix is the Turkish miniseries Ethos, which follows multiple men, but majority women, on their journeys through daily life in a country that is changing religiously, culturally and economically all the time. Dealing with topics such as cerebral palsy, the nuclear family structure, mental health and the relationship between cannabis and Islam, among many, many others, the programme is both incredibly eye-opening and somehow universally identifiable. The need for subtitles most certainly does not get in the way when the writing is so good, and it is such a shame for audiences to miss out on such quality for that reason.


Despite Parasite’s ground-breaking Oscar win, we are still not consuming enough non-English language media, and there is absolutely both an educational and entertaining benefit to it. Hopefully, articles like this will soon not have to be written, as the concept of ‘film/television’ verses ‘foreign film/television’ will hopefully be broken-down, aided by some of the streaming platforms mentioned here. Also, with any hope, life will be back to normal after vaccinations, and we can return to cinemas like the IFI in Dublin which often show an array of non-English-language work. The Light House Cinema is also home to some of Ireland’s most prestigious annual international film festivals, including the AUDI Dublin International Film festival, The Gaze Film Festival and the Japanese Film Festival. For now, though, in a time when media is one of the only accessible and safe forms of entertainment, why should we shut ourselves off from 90% of it?



Featured photos by Google and IMDB


The Trump legacy

The Trump legacy



The Trump legacy 

Donald Trump and mike pence
Emily Murphy

Emily Murphy

5th February 2021


The Trump administration was arguably the most controversial presidential authority in modern US history. Adored by some and despised by others, the past four years have been nothing short of atypical. Donald Trump has gone from being one of the most admired and respected businessmen and celebrity figures, to possibly the most contentious man in America. So, what will his term be remembered for, what is Trump’s legacy? Frankly, it depends on who you ask. For many conservatives, he is remembered as the man who altered US politics, who made campaign promises and then followed-through on them, who promised to put America first. For many liberals, he is the epitome of white supremacy, a modern-day Nazi. He will always be disputed, long after he is dead, but there were some significant moments during his presidency that are worth looking back on. Love him or hate him here are some of the most noteworthy policies of his career. 


Donald Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017, and went about enacting his campaign promises. Just seven days later, he signed Executive Order 13769, ‘Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States’ i.e., the ‘Muslim Ban.’ The order suspended the admission of citizens from seven countries for a period of ninety days, suspended the admission of Syrian refugees indefinitely and prioritised refugee claims by those from minority religions on the grounds of religious persecution, among others. While the order was blocked by various courts including the District Court of Hawaii, it remained in effect until March 6, 2017, when it was superseded by Executive Order 13780. The new order solidified the previous while also limiting travel to the US from several other countries and banning entry to all refugees who did not possess valid travel documents or a visa. These orders and all related proclamations were revoked on January 20, 2021, by current President Joe Biden.


“While the majority of children have been reunited with their families, there remains a small minority for whom no guardian can be found.”


Perhaps one of his most criticised endeavours was the border wall between the United States and Mexico. Throughout his campaign, Trump promised that he would “build the wall and make Mexico pay for it”.  This was condemned by several, many of whom had previously been very vocal in their support for securing the border, and many of whom had already begun working on the issue. In 2006, President Bush signed the ‘Secure Fence Act’, which called for the erection of 700 miles of barriers along the border. By the end of his term, only 526 miles had been constructed. The baton was then taken up by the Obama-Biden Administration, who in turn built and additional 128 miles, and replaced some of the already existing wall. Approximately 75 miles of Obama’s wall cut through the ‘Tohono O’odham nation’ lands, where several bodies of tribespeople, some dating back to the 12th century were removed from a native burial site. By then end of his presidency, Trump had seen the construction of 452 miles, many of which also ran through native lands and protected ecosystems. In general, President Biden has been rather quiet regarding the wall. During an NPR interview, he stated that “not another foot” would be constructed while he was in office, and has since signed an executive order to halt construction. However, he has not addressed the question of the maintenance or removal of the wall, perhaps only time will tell.


The construction of the wall was one of many policies aimed at reducing the numbers of illegal immigrants entering the US via the Mexico border. In 2018, there was an international outcry when news broke of the families that were being separated at the border. By 2018, some 2,500 children had been separated from their families by border control. This began under the Obama administration construction of detention centres. However, it was not standard practice under the former president, to break-up families, this was reserved for special circumstances, such as parents with severe criminal records or suspected child trafficking cases, or any such incident when the welfare of the child came into question. The practice was expanded by Trump, who was renowned for arresting any adults caught crossing the border illegally. In these circumstances, almost all children were transported to detention centres, as they are unable to accompany their guardian to federal prison. For almost two months, the Trump administration defended the policy, which drew criticism from several world leaders, former First Ladies and the Pope. Trump later conceded that family separation is wrong and began taking steps towards family reunification. Although, due to the lack of synchronisation between government bodies, the process became a logistical nightmare. In some instances, for example, ‘Health and Human Services’ which cared for the minors had not been informed by ‘Homeland Security’, who detained the adults, that many of the parents had already been deported back to Central America, and no contact information could be ascertained. While the majority of children have been reunited with their families, there remains a small minority for whom no guardian can be found. The situation as a whole has forever altered the debate on immigration policies, and the conversation on their impact on children. 


March for Trump by Ted Eytan on Flickr



For many republicans, and indeed many democrats, there are numerous achievements which attribute to the Trump administration, including the assassination of Bakr al-Baghdadi in a Syrian military raid, the death of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and reaffirmation of the Panmunjom Declaration, in which Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un agreed to speed up the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. While fighting between North and South Korea lasted three years (1950-1953) and a peace deal was negotiated, it was never signed as both nations refused to recognised the legitimacy of the other. As part of the Panmunjom agreement, Donald Trump agreed to a peace treaty which officially brought an end to the Korean War. Prior to the outbreak of the COVID19 pandemic, the United States had the lowest unemployment recorded in the previous 50 years, both for the population as a whole and for all minorities. In September 2019, only 3.5% of the 328.2 million residents were out of work. The Trump administration and its supporters credited this astonishingly low statistic to the deregulation policies put in place by the President which allowed businesses to flourish. These included a ‘one in two out policy’, where for every new regulation that was passed two ineffective policies must be scrapped. On the other hand, the opposition believes that Trump was simply riding the wave set in motion by Obama during his prior terms. While this could be true in some sense, there have been a number of positive changes issued by the former administration. In California, small businesses that form had to meet filing and registration fees of a minimum $1,930 before the open their doors, before they begin to pay taxes or even start to factor in other expenses such as manufacturing costs. This means that either people must wait to open their business until they can afford to cover all these costs and more upfront, or they must acquire debt and pass the expenses along to their customers in order to break even. $800 of the above fee is an LLC  (Limited Liability Company) fee, i.e., once a business is registered as an LLC, they must pay this amount annually, on top of taxes and charges simply for being a registered business. While this is not a significant sum for already established and successful companies, this kind of regulation can and was crushing start-ups.  Forbes estimated that if all the hidden taxes imposed on businesses were imposed on households, families would be forced to pay $14,455 per year, simply for existing. That is just short of one-fifth of the average pre-tax income. Under the ‘Fall 2020 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions’, a number of agendas included providing relief for small business and the declaration of hidden fees were established.


It seems that regardless of the positive changes made by a president, their opposition will always look for the flaws and faults and choose to highlight those, just as supporters will refuse to acknowledge the negative impacts of their candidate. Here lies the problem with identity politics. If we define ourselves by the party we vote for, we allow ourselves to be drawn into the enemy bashing scene, that can at times define politics, then as a society, we arrive at a point where it is impossible to discuss anything important without devolving into all-out warfare. This is no way to run a civilised democracy. We need to be able to look to those we dislike and acknowledge that even if we disagree with them politically or philosophically, we can recognise the good that they have achieved, while looking and those we admire and understanding that just because we like them does not mean that they are without flaws and failings. If we ever hope to solve important issues, we must learn to stop being so inconsiderate. One’s actions define them, not one’s political ideologies. In his farewell address to the American people, Donald Trump said: “the key to national greatness lies in sustaining and instilling our shared national identity. That means focusing on what we have in common, the heritage that we all share”. The former president also stated that “shutting down free and open debate violates our core values and most enduring traditions in America.” This is not just characteristic of America; it is what defines our world, and has done for generations. We have chosen for centuries to allow the free exchange of ideas and beliefs without criminalization of hatred, this is what has made our civilization successful and makes us who we are, it is what we must strive to protect. After the catastrophe that was last year, perhaps in 2021, we will choose to be more open-minded to those we disagree with, maybe that will be Trump’s legacy.



Featured photo by History in HD on Unsplash


Climate in the courtroom

Climate in the courtroom



Climate in the courtroom 

ice in Norway
Elizabeth Quinn

Elizabeth Quinn

4th February 2021


Climate change is one of the most urgent issues of our time. As a result, there has been an explosion of climate litigation since 2015. This litigation frames climate change as a threat to human rights. The uptake in cases can be seen as a direct consequence of inaction by governments on the issue. As of May 2019 more than 1,300 climate related litigation has been identified in global climate litigation spanning over 28 countries and 4 supranational jurisdictions. This number will continue to rise if inaction persists.


The first case to articulate a human rights-based approach to climate change was Leghari v Pakistan. In this case, a Pakistani farmer affected by climate change sued the national government of Pakistan for failure to implement the Climate Change Policy 2012 and the associated implementation framework. The legal argumentation was based on Pakistan’s constitution. He argued that failure to adopt the plan breached his fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to life and inviolability of human dignity. The Court found in his favour and acknowledged that while Pakistan was not a major global emitter, strong action was needed in order to allow for climate justice which requires global accountability. As a result of this case, a climate change commission was created and concrete goals were set for long term actions. This case inspired others in different jurisdictions.


Possibly the most famous case it inspired is that of Urgenda. In Urgenda it was argued using a human rights framework that the Dutch state was obliged to reduce emissions by at least 25% compared to 1990 levels. This was required in order to prevent a violation of the right to life and the right to respect for private and family life pursuant to A.2 and A.8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The governments’ arguments that the risks are not specific enough, of a global nature and the ECHR does not specifically protect a right to a healthy environment were all rejected by the court. They were rejected as there was a common ground on the basis of reductions needed which was reflected in the IPCC climate reports and the Paris Agreement. The Supreme court also reached their conclusion by stating that A.2 and A.8 could be argued in the domestic court and meant that the state has positive obligations to take measures against the risk of dangerous climate change. The outcome of the case was that the court required the Dutch state to take measures to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in line with international standards. The implementation of this plan remains within the government powers, therefore upholding the separation of powers doctrine. As the case was heard in the Dutch Supreme court there is no binding effect beyond the Netherlands however it has had influence in other countries.


This influence was seen in Climate case Ireland. This case argued that Ireland’s national mitigation plan to tackle climate change was inadequate and did not comply with law as it did not set out how the state would transition to a low carbon economy by 2050, in-line with the climate action and low carbon development act 2015. The applicants also argued, inspired by Urgenda that the mitigation plan violated human rights, namely A.2 and A.8 of the ECHR. The case won on the legality ground at the Supreme Court but failed on the human rights argumentation. The failure of human rights basis was directly linked to the issue of standing. Standing is a procedural requirement and refers to the courts competence to hear and review a case. Without it a case cannot proceed. As Ireland does not allow a petition by individuals on behalf of a public interest and a particular individual was not joined to the case the human rights argument was rejected. The Court did leave the door open for a case to be taken by an individual applicant in the future as they stated that the arguments would have been considered had an individual been joined to the proceedings. This may not be accessible to most due to the prohibitive costs of the Irish legal system. So, although the case was won it was not on the basis of the human rights approach which has been highlighted in other cases.


European Court of Human Rights by CherryX on Wikipedia Commons



Cases are therefore not always successful based on human rights argumentation. This can be seen in the recent case of the People v Arctic Oil. This case was taken by Greenpeace Nordic Association and Nature and Youth (Young Friends of the Earth Norway) and reached the Supreme Court. It primarily challenged the grant of licenses to oil and gas companies to explore additional petroleum in the South Barents Sea. The applicants argued that allowing this exploitation was a failure to protect human rights, namely the right to a healthy environment enshrined in the constitution. The Supreme court ruled that Norway had not violated these rights when they handed out licenses for oil and gas exploration in 2016. The court stated that there was enough of a link between the granting of licenses and the breach of human rights as there was no real and immediate risk of harm to life and no direct and immediate link between the decision and the resulting harm. This case has been criticised as a failure of the Supreme Court to protect the environment and uphold the constitution. Greenpeace has stated that they are now considering an application before the European Court of Human Rights.


The European Court of Human Rights is the strictest regional regime in terms of standing before the court. In order to bring a case, one must show that they are a victim personally affected and the violation of rights must have occurred unless there are exceptional circumstances. This means that groups of people and communities who are affected by climate change cannot bring claims under the ECHR without showing that there is or will be a direct serious impact on a particular person. This is obviously problematic in climate cases where the impacts are not well defined and are felt by everyone equally.


However, there is hope that the court will begin to take climate change cases. Currently, there is a case pending before the European Court in which six young children and young adults from Portugal have issued an application against 33 Council of Europe Member states in respect of the profound impact that climate change is having on them (Youth4climate). Climate litigation is a powerful way for younger generations to have a voice in policy when they are not of age to vote.


The case goes beyond national level and alleges that the states share responsibility for existing and future harms caused by climate change and that the court should analyse whether states are doing their ‘fair share’ to mitigate climate change impacts. The case also takes a human rights-based approach and argues under A.2, A.8 and A.14 (right to be free from discrimination- in this case age discrimination) of the convention. When the case was communicated to the Court, the Court also stated that the right to freedom from ill-treatment under A.3 may also be applicable. This would be the first time A.3 on ill treatment would be considered in relation to a climate issue.


The court has communicated the case to the defendant countries and a response is expected by February 2021. It is predictable that the governments will challenge this case, especially with regard to standing. The case shows that creative legal thinking is needed when there are  inconsistencies in how domestic courts are applying the ECHR. If the case is successful, it will provide a baseline and consistent way for states to interpret their positive obligations in terms of climate change mitigation. Time will tell what will happen.


When considering the impact of these cases, it should be borne in mind that they are not the silver bullet to solving the climate crisis. A multifaceted approach is needed if climate change is to be dealt with in a holistic manner. These cases are only one piece of the puzzle.



Featured photo by United Nations Photo on Flickr


Schitt’s Creek: Why Patrick’s and David’s love story is so important

Schitt’s Creek: Why Patrick’s and David’s love story is so important



Schitt’s Creek: Why Patrick’s and David’s love story is so important

poster from the show Schitt's creek
ellen mcveigh

Ciara Phelan

2nd February 2021


Queer representation in mainstream media, especially the portrayal of queer relationships, is limited but growing. Since the 1990s, with the coming-out of Ellen DeGeneres, television producers have included queer narrative in their stories, but have struggled to do the LGBTQ+ community justice in the portrayal of their love and relationships. Although many shows have included same-sex relationships as part of a major storyline, no show, in my opinion, has shown the normality of queer relations like Schitt’s Creek.


Schitt’s Creek is a Canadian sitcom, created in 2015, which quickly rose to fame in recent months, following the winning of a whopping nine Emmy awards in 2020. The series follows the Rose family and their rapid transition from wealthy socialites to bankruptcy – their only asset being the town of Schitt’s Creek, which was bought as a joke. As the family comes to terms with middle-class, small-town life, they come into various, hilarious conflicts. By overcoming these various hardships, the Rose family are all well-respected, active members in their new community by the final seasons of the show. The two adult children, David and Alexis, brilliantly played by Dan Levy and Annie Murphy, both go on to achieve their own successes, as they learn the true value of work, money, and the relationships around them. David, who is openly pansexual from the offset, blossoms from a spoiled man-child to an entrepreneur and a husband in an adoring relationship. David’s relationship with Patrick grows organically in front of the viewers and is one of the most genuinely real queer relationships on television.


In the third season of the show, David is given the lease agreement to the recently closed-down General Store, which he transforms into Rose Apothecary. Although he has an eye for design, he relies on his business partner, Patrick Brewer (played by Noah Reid), for the administration and legality of the business’s endeavours. This business relationship develops into a romantic one in a way that is heart-warming but carefully thought-out. The writers of the show successfully maintained a teenage-innocence to their story, despite both men being in their 30s. Following their first kiss, Patrick reveals that he had never kissed a man before, and was nervous due to his lack of experience. Although David was publicly out as pansexual, and has had relations with men in the past, he never belittles or judges Patrick.  Research by the Pew Research Centre has shown that LGBTQ+ adults are coming out earlier in life, but Patrick’s coming-out story in his 30s is embraced by both the Schitt’s Creek residents, and the viewers. We see all aspects of Patrick coming to terms with his sexuality, including coming out to his parents, which only serves to deepen the viewers’ affection for him.


The two men never shy away from intimacy. Affection between heterosexual couples on television is nothing new, but Schitt’s Creek is slowly changing the way in which homosexual relationships are portrayed on television. A kiss between a man and woman is expected and accepted on television, regardless of the genre of the show, but LGBTQ+ characters are not given the same opportunities to express their love openly and comfortably on the big screen. David and Patrick are not reluctant when it comes to displaying their fondness for one another, regularly holding hands, or sharing a kiss. The most tender of these moments being when Patrick sings “Simply the Best” – an absolute classic – at the Rose Apothecary Open Mic Night. Although singing to a room full of Schitt’s Creek residents, Patrick is undoubtedly singing to David, moving both David and his mother, Moira (played by actress Catherine O’Hara) to unscripted tears.



Patrick and David in a recent scene, from Twitter


The most stable and loving gay relationships on TV, like Mitch and Cam in Modern Family or Captain Holt and Kevin in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, are rarely seen holding hands, kissing, or displaying any sort of physical closeness to each other. Although these shows are normalising the airing of LGBTQ+ couples on television, they fail to feature this vital element of their relationship. On the other side of the spectrum, Orange is the New Black portrays raw, uncensored lesbian relationships. These relationships are fleeting though, with the surviving couples having to tolerate high levels of toxicity in the relationship. Dan Levy told Out Magazine:

“Writers’ rooms and television studios paint gay love stories with a different brush than they do straight love stories. There’s more caution as to how intimate you can be. It was my intention with this relationship to never once question whether we were taking it too far.”

The writers of Schitt’s Creek strike a perfect balance between love and struggle. Their relationship, like all relationships, have their ups and downs – for example, when Patricks ex-fiancée comes to town in an attempt to rekindle their old romance, and Patrick is forced to admit that aspect of his life to David. Although David is upset that he did not know about his previous engagement, he shows maturity by not arguing with Partick regarding the idea of Patrick’s previous heterosexual relationships. More importantly, David neither questions Patrick’s sexuality, nor does he criticise Patrick for coming out later in life.


The writers of Schitt’s Creek, including Dan Levy (in his role as executive producer), were unsure of the relationship at first. When interviewed by EW, Levy admitted that he was unsure if the relationship would work:

“Noah could have come into the show and we could’ve gotten along, but there wouldn’t have been the same spark. Then we would have probably inevitably either written him out or had it die-off at some point.”

However, in letting the characters achieve their happy ending, Levy avoided falling victim to the “Bury the Gays” trope. “Bury the Gays” is a popular trope in television in which LGBTQ+ characters die to add shock value. This trope however, has saturated mainstream media, to the extent that it is unusual when LGBTQ+ characters are given an opportunity to live relatively pain-free lives. Studies by the Journal of Homosexuality has shown that out of the 35 lesbian characters on television in the 2015–2016 season, 10 died in scripted narrative television (Waggoner, 2018). This can be seen in numerous popular TV shows, such as The 100, Pretty Little Liars, and The Walking Dead. During a GLAAD panel discussion in 2017, creators agreed that TV needs to reverse this trope. Megan Townsend, GLAAD’s director of entertainment research and analysis commented that the deaths of the LGBTQ+ characters are “often in violent ways that benefit somebody else’s story rather than anything contributing to that character’s own arc” (Dibdin, 2017).


The writers of Schitt’s Creek successfully developed a realistic yet warm gay relationship, the likes of which have not been seen on mainstream television before. The portrayal of any relationship, queer or straight, as a human relationship is essential in the process of acceptance in mainstream media and in society as a whole. I hope that these strides towards reducing the stigma of same-sex intimacy in media is mimicked in future series.





Featured photo from Twitter




Book Review: Revisiting The Handmaid’s Tale

Book Review: Revisiting The Handmaid’s Tale


Book Review: Revisiting The Handmaid’s Tale

women in costumes from The Handmaid's Tale sitting by The Lincoln Memorial
Parisa Zangeneh

8th January 2021


I first tried to read The Handmaid’s Tale when I was 18 or 19 and on a break from university. I couldn’t get through it, in part because it was too hard for me to handle how mean the women in the book were to each other. In the years between that stage of my life and the present, I avoided it as much as possible, though it was everywhere – in bookstores, on television, and more recently, on Netflix. In the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election in the US, I suddenly became interested in reading it, because I felt that it was time to delve into what was really going on beneath the surface.


The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the best books I have read in a long time. It is also one of the creepiest. The most striking reason for the book’s creepiness is obvious: the United States has descended into a civil war, and the Republic of Gilead has taken over. Those who have not managed to flee are forced to remain in Gilead to assume new social roles, which in part are defined by their sex. While the book focuses on women, it also raises issues that affect the sexual and reproductive rights of non-binary and transgender people. The book’s intersecting and intertwining themes are many: repression on the basis of sex; social caste; envy, scorn, condescension, and cruelty between women on the basis of their fertility levels and/or ability to bear children; government surveillance; militarization of society; lack of due process, etc.



“It is increasingly important to remember that the progress we have made has been hard-won.”


Margaret Atwood, the author, says that she drew inspiration for the novel from Dutch religious iconography. I was a bit surprised by this, because I had automatically associated the book’s plot – revolution, the regression of women’s rights, forced coverages of their bodies with clothes, repressed and controlled sexualities – with the Iranian Revolution of 1979. For me, the parallels between this book, the timing of the book, and the 1979 Iranian revolution are undeniable. The parallels between them, the themes, and my life are also undeniable as well. At times, the book was traumatic for me personally to read, as I saw a lot of myself in the main character and a lot of the repression that she experienced in my own life. The main character, Offred, lives as a concubine as one of the Handmaids in the Republic of Gilead. As readers, we know that prior to her life in the new social order, she had a husband and daughter and that her mother was a feminist who was active in the women’s rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.


One of the book’s main themes is the oppression of women on the basis of their reproductive capabilities. This theme is of relevance to today’s society. It is increasingly important to remember that the progress we have made has been hard-won. I think that most young women and girls in the United States and the West do not know enough of what it is to be completely oppressed on the basis of their reproductive capabilities to empathize with the women’s rights movement of previous generations. I also do not think that most women and girls are aware of the threat that is posed to their rights, personal and collective, not only by patriarchy, but by the militarization of patriarchy.


Most young women and girls today, at least in the West, have grown up with relatively liberalized identities and practices regarding sexual identity, gender, and access to birth control. These are all positive things. Thankfully, many young women and people with uteruses have not had to get through a large number of the difficult and dangerous experiences that come from being oppressed and at times having your life threatened on the basis of your sexual reproductive abilities. For example, many of us are now able to take some things for granted, such as having access to birth control, having access to abortion, and not being forced into an arranged marriage. Perhaps most importantly, access to birth control has allowed younger generations to avoid a grim fate: being a young, unwed mother who is left with a baby after the child’s father and potentially family refuse to accept responsibility for the child – and here in Ireland, being pushed into one of the Mother and Baby Homes, or the Magdalene Laundries.


The book was first published in the 1980s, which provides a different point of reference for the book, though stunningly, it is still just as resonant and relevant today as it was then. Offred’s mother is portrayed as being openly in favor of women, but she appreciates Luke, her son-in-law, who participates in household chores and in other domestic activities. It is important to remember that many men, even baby boomers and men of my generation, still expect their mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, and even nieces and cousins to clean up after them, to do all the cooking and cleaning, and to defer to their inherently superior judgment on all matters. We have come far since the 1980s, but not far enough.




Featured photo by Victoria Pickering



Women in Horror Cinema: ‘Screen Queens’ and changing representations

Women in Horror Cinema: ‘Screen Queens’ and changing representations


Women in Horror Cinema: ‘Screen Queens’ and changing representations

gender roles in horror
ARIANNA STEWART - stand news

Arianna Stewart

16th October 2020

Horror cinema has always been an extremely nuanced genre of film in terms of its representation of female characters. Conventional gender roles and stereotypes permeate the genre with clichéd female archetypes such as the helpless victim as portrayed by Drew Barrymore’s character, Casey Becker in Scream (1996) and the sexually promiscuous woman as depicted by the character of Marcy in Cabin Fever (2002). The genre’s female characters have been historically perceived, in the words of English professor, horror novelist and Stephen King enthusiast Anthony Magistrale “exclusively as objects inspiring salacious behaviour from the horror monster, or at least as the object of the monster’s victimisation’’. Films such as Ginger Snaps (2000) began to comment on these quintessential female roles problematising them. The protagonist, Ginger Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle), directly comments on the limitations of gender roles in horror film, criticising how ‘’a girl can only be a slut, a bitch, a tease or the virgin next door’’.


gendered roles in horror - ginger snap

Still from Ginger Snaps, Copperheart Entertainment.

However more and more contemporary characterisations of the female figure in horror cinema have challenged these long-held gender stereotypes. In this article I’ll be examining the historical representation of women in horror films and how the horror landscape is changing, allowing for more nuanced and multi-faceted female characters that speak directly to modern female experiences.


Historical representations of women in horror cinema can be overall perceived as chiefly negative due to the hegemonic cultural practice of gendered stereotypes. According to film theorist Claire Johnston, ‘’the image of woman operates in film as a sign, but as a sign which derives its meaning not from the reality of women’s lives, but from men’s desires and fantasies’’ (Gymnich and Ruhl 229). This holds true with the many slasher films where women are repeatedly victimized such as Halloween (1978) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1978) and Friday The 13th (1980) to name a few.


Although there are a few exceptions, such as the character of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in sci-fi horror Alien (1979). The film reconfigured the idea of women as helpless victims and placed her centre stage, a powerful gun-toting feminist heroine. Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) in The Silence of The Lambs (1991) who is a successful female agent, dominates within the phallocentric industry of the F.B.I.


“Masculine roles such as the antagonist or monster figure are upheld by a male or a masculinised female, whereas women are more than often the victims of highly sexualised violence”

However, within the horror genre specifically, female characters have been repeatedly victimised and punished for being sexually active, in contemporary language, they’re slut-shamed. The horror genre can therefore be recognised as a gendered genre as the masculine roles such as the antagonist or monster figure are upheld by a male or a masculinised female, whereas women are more than often the victims of highly sexualised violence.


Such films as American Psycho (2000), The Human Centipede 2 (2011) and The Hills Have Eyes (2006) feature scenes that depict sexualised violence against women which can perpetuate a harmful coexistence of sex and violence. However in recent years, as described in a comprehensive article about the evolution of women in horror cinema ‘’Women in horror: Victims no more’’ by Beth Younger, ‘’the genre has moved from taking pleasure in victimising women to focusing on women as survivors and protagonists. It has veered away from slashers and torture porn to more substantive, nuanced films that comment on social issues and possess an aesthetic vision’’. Such films as It Follows (2015) subverts the idea of woman as sexually deviant and opens up an opportunity to critique rape culture and comment on the importance of sexual consent.


With the contemporary emergence of empowering, feminist directors such as Julia Ducournau, Ana Lily Amirpour, Greta Gerwig and Ava DuVernay to name only a few, it only makes sense that the on-screen female characters are equally as empowered.


This series of articles will examine contemporary female-centred narratives from a number of directors across multiple cultures, such as; A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014) Midsommar (2019) Hereditary (2018) The Witch (2015) and Halloween (2018). It might not be a bad idea to check these out before my next article. Happy spooky season!


Check out some of the interesting sources that I’ve mentioned in this article below!

Gendered (Re)Visions: Constructions of Gender in Audiovisual Media edited by Marion Gymnich, Kathrin Ruhl

Women in Horror: Victims no More



Featured photo from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 chiller Psycho



Oatly Facing Boycotts Following Unsustainable Investment Links to Deforestation and Trump

Oatly Facing Boycotts Following Unsustainable Investment Links to Deforestation and Trump


Oatly Facing Boycotts Following Unsustainable Investment Links to Deforestation and Trump

oatly boycott blackstone
Elizabeth Quinn

Elizabeth Quinn

29th September 2020

Oatly has made headlines recently for accepting an investment from Blackstone, one of the largest private equity firms in the world, which has links to deforestation in the Amazon, the Trump administration and the commercialisation of the housing market. The case of Oatly raises the question – is it possible to be 100% sustainable within our current economic framework?


Oatly is a plant-based milk alternative which has at its core a message of environmentalism. Oatly state that their mission is “to make it easy for people to turn what they eat and drink into personal moments of healthy joy without recklessly taxing the planet’s resources in the process.”  Now Oatly has made headlines for accepting an investment of $200 million from private equity firm Blackstone. This means that Oatly is now 10% owned by Blackstone and receives financial support from them.


Blackstone has been criticised for their links to investment in the Hidrovias– a Brazilian infrastructure company that has been accused of contributing to deforestation in the Amazon. Blackstone denies this. Blackstone’s CEO has also been a prominent supporter of Donald Trump. The UN has accused Blackstone of contributing to the global housing crisis through the commodification of housing. In letters from the UN to Blackstone, this financialisation of housing focused on the Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Sweden and the US. Blackstone dispute this claim. However, this means Oatly now earn money from a private equity firm which appears to be at odds with Oatly’s goal as a company wishing to create sustainable change for the good of the environment.


This case brings to mind the question of the role businesses should play in our society. Should businesses aim only for-profit maximisation or should businesses also have some social aspect to them? Do they have a responsibility to conduct their actions in a socially conscious way? Those believing the answer to be yes led to the evolution of corporate social responsibility (CSR). One of the most famous economists, Friedman, argued against CSR as he saw it as moving money away from profit maximisation. What Friedman fails to acknowledge here is that being socially responsible and engaging with stakeholders could actually provide for better business and may deliver profits.


Being socially responsible has, until now, worked for Oatly. Oatly’s total growth for 2018 was 65%, and a turnover of 1028 million Swedish SEK. This point shows that the sustainable message Oatly gives is one which is resonating through the population. Many people believe in Oatly’s mission and thus bought their product. Oatly’s high turnover gives the impression that Blackstone’s investment is not money which is needed for Oatly to survive, rather it is extra venture capital needed to expand. The argument that if Oatly does not accept these types of investment it will completely fail as a company falls short.


“This case brings to mind the question of the role businesses should play in our society. Should businesses aim only for-profit maximisation or do they have a responsibility to conduct their actions in a socially conscious way?


Oatly states that they wish to show Blackstone that sustainable investment is the future. At the same time, they have acknowledged that they will have no control over what Blackstone invests in outside of their partnership. Therefore, their idea that they will have an influence on Blackstone’s investments in the future is naïve. Blackstone owns over $538 billion dollars in assets. Oatly is part of a $200 million deal. Blackstone cannot wave a magic wand, invest a fraction of what it is worth and become a sustainable investment company.


Rather, becoming sustainable takes work- work which Blackstone does not seem to be willing to do. Oatly needs to judge Blackstone not by their words but by their actions. Oatly states that the decision to engage with Blackstone was an intense thought process. This is very vague. Companies like Oatly have access to toolkits such as human rights impact assessments to gauge the impact their decisions would have adversely on human rights. Whether Oatly has completed this kind of assessment is not clear. If it had, I doubt that it would have come to the conclusion it did. Blackstone now shows on their homepage that they are supporting growth and sustainability. Private equity firms can, on the one hand, state they are supporting environmental goals, while on the other hand directly contribute to the opposite goal.


The language of corporate social responsibility has evolved. The UN guiding principles on business and human rights are responsible for this language change. This means that rather than the vague CSR, which is not based on international standards, that companies have guidelines on what they need to do in order to respect human rights in their operations and supply chains. These guidelines should be used in assessing whether there are human rights risks involved in projects. Companies such as Oatly should, in their operations, carry out impact assessments in order to deal with risks which may occur to rights holders.


An interesting fact with regards to Oatly is that it is not a publicly-traded company, meaning that the general public cannot own shares in Oatly. The only way for Oatly to be informed by the public that this behaviour is not seen as acceptable is through a boycott, which some have already called for. If the general public own shares in a corporation which they believe need to improve its human rights standards, then this may be an easier way of putting pressure on a company to conform to the human rights standards which the public sees fit.


This investment with Blackstone appears to go against what Oatly’s CEO stated in 2019- “If you say you’re ethical you have to back it up”.



Featured photo by Oatly




Review: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ Will Make You Rethink Race

Review: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ Will Make You Rethink Race


Review: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ Will Make You Rethink Race

james baldwin I am not your negro
deepthi suresh stand news

Deepthi Suresh

18th September 2020


Raoul Peck’s documentary is a political statement and looks deep into the mind of James Baldwin. It is a thought-provoking and cinematic biography with a mission; a mission to show America through the eyes of an African-American with scattered shreds of hope, horror and disgust.


History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history. If we pretend otherwise, we are literally criminals. I attest to this: the world is not white; it never was white, cannot be white. White is a metaphor for power, and that is simply a way of describing Chase Manhattan Bank.

– James Baldwin, I am not your Negro


Race is part of our history. Our present, our past and most certainly our future. “I am not your Negro”,  is a documentary that makes you rethink race. It pinpoints the Hollywood stereotypes and police brutality as Baldwin in his compelling analysis, describes a “mirror stage” culture that Black people went through in 20th century America. As kids, they would gleefully cheer and identify with the white heroes and heroines of Hollywood culture; then they would see themselves in the mirror and realise they were different from the white stars and in fact weren’t different from the baddies and “Indians” they’d been booing.


The documentary is mainly built around the unfinished manuscript that was intended to be a personal recollection of Baldwin’s friends, the civil- rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr who were all assassinated within five years of each other. The voice-over narration by Samuel L. Jackson may be one of the best performances in his career. If you are looking to better understand Baldwin himself through this masterpiece, then you will be pleasantly surprised because this film shies away from it. This genius move by the filmmaker allows viewers to appreciate Baldwin’s powerful eloquence. The audience thus is able to form a portrait of the man behind through his own words. However, the documentary omits a very crucial aspect of his work and life: his sexuality. During the 60s liberals and radicals mocked Baldwin alike for his sexuality. President John.F.Kennedy and others referred to him disparagingly as “Martin Luther Queen” and Eldridge Cleaver, one of the leaders of the Black Panther Party, wrote in his memoir Soul on Ice: “The case of James Baldwin aside for a moment, it seems that many Negro homosexuals, acquiescing in this racial death-wish, are outraged and frustrated because in their sickness they are unable to have a baby by a white man.”


The archival footage which is culled from Baldwin’s university speeches and his television appearances on The Dick Cavett Show, demonstrate to the audience the man himself in his usual piercing fire. The clips beautifully edited by Alexandra Strauss rightly showcases the contrast of the horrific past, and the evil present thus illustrates the urgency of Baldwin’s words even today. The protests that have engulfed the social media and the cries for justice seem like a distant call from the past, for example, the 1960’s scenes of police brutality in the South against clips of Rodney King and the tragedy of Ferguson. Peck is also astute in using Baldwin’s words about pop culture and the Hollywood liberal dilemma especially through films such as The Defiant Ones, Dance, Fools, Dance, Imitation of Life and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Baldwin through his words shows how racism was wired into the most seemingly liberal pieties. He believed Hollywood of stereotyping black menace and subservience as foils for purity and innocence. This documentary also, therefore, becomes a commentary on Hollywood that reaped profits banking on racial stereotypes and on perpetuating a fiction of America as a pioneer for democracy, freedom and ultimately the perfect American dream for ‘all’. I am not your Negro is an astounding statement on race that continues to resonate today and is a must-watch.


You can watch the trailer below:



Featured photo by Sedat Pakay



Miss Representation (2011) Reveals a Glaring Reality Still Relevant in 2020

Miss Representation (2011) Reveals a Glaring Reality Still Relevant in 2020


Miss Representation (2011) Reveals a Glaring Reality Still Relevant Today

Miss Representation Documentary

Parisa Zangeneh

14th September 2020


The documentary film, Miss Representation, came out in 2011, yet it remains shockingly resonant today. The film exposes how mainstream media and culture contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. As an American woman, Miss Representation strongly resonates with mebut its message is relevant to women and girls everywhere.  


The film makes several vital points: that the media poorly depicts women; that it creates a culture of misogyny; and that it harms women’s and girls’ health, development, and their ability to be seen as intellectuals, rather than sex objects. The first two minutes of Miss Representation features dozens of images showcasing the way mainstream American media portrays women. In response to this visual barrage, a young girl (who reminds me a lot of myself at that agesums it up: “There is no appreciation for women intellectuals. It’s all about the body and not about the brain.”  


The poor representation of women in and by the media permeates all aspects of women’s and girls’ lives, including the interests that girls develop as they grow up. The film highlights the many obstacles women face in political participation, not least the searing criticism, objectification, and subjugation. Young girls who have political aspirations are depicted alongside obstacles women face in political participation and the searing criticism, objectification, and subjectification of women in roles of power. This link between the depiction of women in the media and women’s participation in the political process is made clear as the film provides abundant evidence of prominent female candidates for political and judicial office, women in public service, and in hard-hitting news programs who have been reduced to their appearances in media coverageChris Matthews, for example, said of Sarah Palin: “She’s irresistibly cute, let’s put it that way, in the way she presents herself, obviously she’s attractive and all that”Michael Savage  asked“Do you know that ugly hag Madeleine Albright, remember her, the psycho, she was Secretary of State under the Clinton, like a fat moron.” Nancy Pelosi, the former Speaker of the House, was labelled the “Wicked Witch of the West” by one commentator (a google search to track down the commentator reveals too many hits referring to Pelosi as the “Wicked Witch of the West to result in identification), while Lee Rogers stated, “Look at these ugly skanks” (referring to the female Democratic leadership). Chris Baker observed that Pelosi’s perceived facelift was another reason “why it’s very rare to find a woman worthy of serving in political office.” Another, Jay Thomas, stated “I think if you waterboarded Nancy Pelosi she wouldn’t admit to plastic surgery.” 


In the years since Miss Representation was first released, progress has been questionable at best.”


Some of the language is also racialized: “Cynthia McKinney, the former Congresswoman from Georgia, was another angry black woman“. Notably, Miss Representation does not contain any reference to the negative, racialized media depictions of Michelle Obama, another prominent African American woman, in the 2008 presidential race, which directly relate to Miss Representation’s message. A greater focus on the impact of racialized language and negative media treatment of women of colour would have enriched and added depth to Miss Representation and is a missed opportunity to include the African American community to a greater degree in the film. For example, the 2020 documentary film, Becomingdepicted Michelle Obama’s vilification in the press during the 2007/2008 Presidential campaign. At one point, it cites negative media attention over the fist bump, which was alternatively called a terrorist fist jabbetween Michelle and Barack at a rally, an image of an angry-looking Michelle on the National Review with the headline “Mrs Grievance”, and voices of commentators calling her an angry woman, not warm and fuzzy, among other jabs 


In the years since Miss Representation was first released, progress has been questionable at best. One manifestation of this is how women are treated in the political arena. In 2016, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump described his opponent Hillary Clinton as a nasty woman. Recently, Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez recounted on the House floor how Representative Ted Yoho “had put his finger in [her] face” and had called her disgusting, crazy, out of her mind, dangerous, and publicly, “a f****** b****”On the other hand, women made considerable gains in representation in Congress (the legislative branch of the U.S. government) during the 2018 elections. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were elected to Congress, making history as the first two Muslim women elected.  


However, women still face a long battle aheadAccording to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, as of August 1, 2020the United States came in at 85th in the world in a ranking of the percentage of women in parliament. Afghanistan ranked 69th. Recent headlines include coverage of racialized and sexist press attention directed at Kamala Harris, named as Democratic Presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s running mateRupert Murdoch’s The Australian published a cartoon of Biden and Harris, in which Biden states “It’s time to heal a nation divided by racism so I’ll hand you over to this little brown girl while I go for a lie-down”. 


The issues depicted in Miss Representation are clearly coming to the fore again in the U.S. election race. Hopefully, more women will be elected to office this fall and women will continue to make strides in the direction of equality. However, systemic barriers, such as the media coverage of female candidatesare very real problems that need eliminating.



Featured photo by Miss Representation (2011)




The Innocence Files Review

The Innocence Files Review

Arts & Culture

The Innocence Files Review

US Flage behind barb wire fence

22nd July 2020


True crime documentaries are never particularly tasteful. Go on YouTube or Netflix or late-night television and you can enjoy an array of other people’s personal tragedies: documentaries that serve no purpose other than to indulge a desire for horror and tales of human suffering.

Netflix documentary series, The Innocence Files, is a whodunnit with a cause. Repetitive and over-indulgent, the series brings many interesting things to light – only to leave them hanging.

The producers of The Innocence Files must have seen an opportunity to increase the popularity of what might otherwise have been a serious documentary about the flaws in the US legal system, inherent racial bias and progress of DNA science, by putting an emphasis on ‘trashy’ mystery elements and gruesome details. It spends most of its time describing murders to the sound of eerie music, in the style of true crime documentaries found at the shameful end of a late-night YouTube spree.

The series of nine episodes follows eight cases of wrongful convictions. This is to say that it focuses on eight men who were put in prison for crimes they did not commit. Each episode establishes why these men were sentenced in the first place, how to get them out, and who actually committed the crimes. 

The documentary successfully humanises these eight prisoners by spending time with their relatives. A lawyer for The Innocence Project, a legal organisation specialising in getting innocent people out of prison, explains that “it’s only when you see the families and communities that you really understand the prisoner.” 

I think the series here is making the point that the police should have spent longer getting to know these families and communities before they incarcerated innocent men, but it fails to show in what way the families and communities of the real perpetrators were any different.

The series touches on the US’ problem of putting retribution before accuracy or rehabilitation and the way in which racial elements play into this problem. The Innocence Files draws a comparison between the overarchingly black population of prisons and a sort of modern-day slavery: in the second episode, the camera pans to a shocking landscape. Working the cotton fields of a Mississippi prison is a vast, imprisoned, black community, and the series suggests that a number of them are innocent. This is the same prison that, in the years after the abolition of the slave trade, continued to rent out its black inmates to work on plantations. 


“The series touches on the US’ problem of putting retribution before accuracy or rehabilitation and the way in which racial elements play into this problem.”


The series has a number of villains but, unlike most crime dramas, the villains are not the murderers: they are the lawyers, the police and the justice system. The series’ first three episodes feature an evil dentist. Often being brought in on trials as an expert witness, and having made numerous mistakes resulting in the incarceration of innocent (black) people, he aligns criticism of his former methods with criticism of Confederate statues. 

The dentist argues that it is as anachronistic to criticise the statues (‘part of history’) as it is anachronistic to blame him for putting innocent people in jail. His argument is that, as DNA testing was not advanced when he gave his expertise, his use of flawed ‘bite mark evidence’ as certain proof of guilt was entirely justified. “I will not be erased” are his parting words to the camera.

The series is about the ways in which the justice system has failed innocent people. Bite mark evidence is its first target, witness identification its second, and corruption and misconduct within the justice system its third. It is clear after an episode that the first two constitute unreliable evidence – but this message is drummed in for over six hours. Admittedly, the series also depicts unsuccessful attempts at changing the laws – where people refuse to discredit evidence that is pretty much proven not to be accurate. But the viewer is on The Innocence Project’s side sooner than the series seems to anticipate.

The most interesting aspect of the series lies in its discussion of misconduct within the justice system. We watch police and DAs fight to keep innocent men in prison, more afraid to admit their mistakes than to do the right thing. The relationship between the police and the DAs described as symbiotic, ‘almost invit[ing] misconduct’. We watch detectives manipulate witness testimonies, hide and ignore evidence and even blackmail witnesses into giving false statements in order to support their unproven and often racially biased ideas. A memorable line is the comparison of witness testimonies being moulded into shape like sausages in a factory. This legal system, coupled with its racial bias, leaves minorities powerless and weak, with the idea that if a black or Hispanic person ‘didn’t do it this time, it’ll be them next time’.

This documentary is weak, but it advocates for change. In a system where we see defence lawyers turn to reporters to set people free, there needs to be a change. The laws need to change. Politics need to change. But most of all the problem is with a racial bias so profound that the series’ many villains simply can’t see their own mistakes.



Featured photo Barbara Rosner



‘Stop Filming Us’ – Questioning Neocolonialism through the Camera Lens

‘Stop Filming Us’ – Questioning Neocolonialism through the Camera Lens


‘Stop Filming Us!’ – Neocolonialism through the Camera Lens

Isolde MacDonagh

3rd June 2020


Posing questions, not answering them – Joris Postema’s Stop Filming Us wants to show us the city of Goma you don’t see in UNICEF’s pity-inducing photos of miserable children. But can he portray the Congolese reality without becoming part of the problem?


For me, this question is answered early on. Postema, in this documentary, works closely with several African filmmakers and photographers to capture the ‘real’ Goma, a city in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  In a meeting, he asks his Congolese co-workers about his Western team: “Did we do anything neo-colonial in the past few weeks?”. “Of course,” Ganza Buroko replies. He lists Postema’s mistakes. “Ah – so we start again,” says Postema. They laugh. “No, we continue.”


This film doesn’t try to be perfect. Postema is as much of a student as his viewer, and the documentary comes across as a work in progress. In Stop Filming Us, Postema follows the lives of three Congolese filmmakers and photographers. The first of these is Mugabo Baritegera, an artist and photographer who roams the streets looking to capture the Goma he himself experiences. Baritegera explains that when he looks at the sad Congolese faces in photos released by the media, he does not recognise himself. Happiness is a significant part, not only of the Congolese life but of the Congolese identity (already so attacked by colonialism). When Westerners portray Goma as an unhappy place, they continue to destroy the Congolese identity. “We don’t even know what we have forgotten”: this is a phrase that stands out, as Postema watches the Congolese discuss their history. Baritegera is filmed building a new art gallery, where he can display his work. When the gallery is completed, at the end of the film, we see for the first time the people of Goma taking photos of one another that are not loaded with political messages – they are simply enjoying themselves.


“When Westerners portray Goma as an unhappy place, they continue to destroy the Congolese identity”

Unsurprisingly, there is a strong feeling about photography in Goma, many seeing it as the exploitation of their faces for money. Ley Uwera, a photographer working for NGOs, takes the photos she is paid to take, knowing that they do not represent her country. We watch her photographing a refugee settlement, where she moves children aside, stages photos, and asks people to stand in awkward positions in order to capture exaggerated unhappiness. Her photos ignore the life and the happiness that is also present in the environments she photographs. 


Stop filming us” is a familiar cry in Postema’s 90-minute film, and every time we hear it, we are aware of Postema’s contradictory position. “Go Home”, Postema is told. But he does not. Instead, Postema films the filmmakers. He films those who have exploited the Congolese with their cameras. He films the prison-like appearances of the high-security gates to the countless NGO headquarters, in what are arguably the most powerful shots in the film. Postema’s documentary watches the people who are creating videos that shape the world’s understanding of Goma. There are two primary examples of this. Postema’s observation of Uwera’s work for the NGOs, but also an episode where Postema films Baritegera making a (beautiful) film showing the positive side of Goma but omitting a street fight and the arguments that happened during his shoot. Although this film was the aesthetic highlight of the documentary, it omitted perhaps what a Westerner would describe as the truth.


Photo by: Joris Postema, Stop Filming Us


But can a Westerner criticise the Congolese for not being truthful enough in their representations of their own cities? Westerners, naturally, have no right to define truth, but Postema’s documentary wants to understand why these more negative aspects of Baritegera’s film do not come into Baritegera’s depiction of the ‘real Goma’. Postema asks his Congolese film crew why Baritegera might have omitted what, for a Westerner, would be important details. They give varied answers – the violence is boring, normal, not something to talk about. 


Stop Filming Us is a discussion. Postema’s opinion is visible in the editing and what he has chosen to film, but he includes different perspectives wherever he can. This makes for the film’s strange structure: it is a film that ends several times. Twice Postema shows his latest version of Stop Filming Us to the Congolese and asks them what they think of it, and twice the ensuing discussion is included in the film. This, of course, symbolises that this discussion has in no way ended with this film. We think again of Buroko’s words, at the beginning of the documentary: “we continue”.


There are questions that remain by the end of this film. Should Postema have just gone home? Should the NGOs, arrogant and unwanted, go home? Or do Westerners have a responsibility to fix what they broke? A scene of Baritegera chanting “if you watch, you are complicit” targets the film’s audience: we, also, are part of this discussion. But to what extent?



Featured photo by Joris Postema