[In response to the film, Imagining Emanuel]
By Zool Suleman
Imagining Emanuel is a timely documentary that deals with one of the central crises of our times – what to do with the many millions of refugees who are escaping from war and other dislocating forces (economic, climate, and others).
The crisis of the refugee.
Despite providing lip service to humanitarian aid, the global (well developed, rich) North, is continuing to build fences (legal, actual and otherwise) to keep out refugees who are predominantly in the global (economically poor) South.
In this film the framing device is the identity of the protagonist, Emanuel Agara. Emanuel has claimed refugee asylum in Norway and claims to be fleeing a civil war in Liberia. The Norwegian authorities think he is from Ghana and his refugee claim in denied. Emanuel cannot be returned to any country. He is in limbo.
Who is Emanuel and how does Emanuel get imagined by those around him? Those who have power over his life and those who enrich his life?
Director Thomas A. Ostbye uses simple interviews with various subjects (a refugee judge, an immigration enforcement officer, a friend, a lawyer, and others) to “frame” who to them is “Emanuel”. A liar. A refugee. A person with no identity. A person with several identities. These frames overlap and a nuanced image of “Emanuel” emerges. In the film, Emanuel starts as the object of scrutiny and ends as a complex human subject.
The film has chapters which give a clue to the Director’s method.
Illustrated Story. Storyteller. Listeners. Situation. Position. Place. Paper. Identifying. Theatre. Documentary.
As a refugee advocate, the issues raised in the film felt real to me. All to often a life depends on a piece of paper. One piece of evidence. A life depends on one fact or one memory. There is a misguided sense for those in power that there is one truth, but in reality there can be many truths, depending on who is speaking and from what perspective.
For me the continuing dialogue in this film is around some core areas. Continue the dialogue and share what you think.
Race. Emanuel is a black man in a mainly white country. While there are hints that race is an issue in this story, it is not explicitly brought out. What do you think about this? Why is there such an omission/understatement?
Identity. The decision makers who have authority over Emanuel are fixated on an identity which is found in a piece of paper. The identity which Emanuel presents does not fit their “evidence’, so what is Emanuel to do? Ironically, he may have to lie about being Ghanaian so as to gain respect from the Norwegian authorities for telling the “truth”.
Tone. The tone of the film is quite and “cold”. The silences, looks, gestures and body language speak volumes. Was this tone effective in conveying Emanuel’s isolation from his surroundings?
There is a timeliness to this issues raised in this film as Canada struggles with passing an implement a refugee law (Bill C-31) which many advocates see as being draconian in taking away refugee rights. What do you think about the recent proposed changes to Canada’s immigration and refugee laws? Perhaps we need to explore how we are treating our own “Emanuel’s”?
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