Authors Name: 
Laura Cummins
University: 
University of Leeds
Category: 
Music, Film & Theater
Highly commended

‘The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “state of emergency” in which we live is not the exception but the rule.’ (Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’) Discuss this quote from Walter Benjamin in relation to the films/texts e

This essay discusses 1987’s Handsworth Songs and 1995’s La Haine in the light of the writings of Walter Benjamin, particularly his ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, as an examination of the ways in which his theses can be used to better represent diaspora groups in film. I focus particularly on Benjamin’s statement that ‘the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “state of emergency” in which we live is not the exception but the rule’. Both of these films represent the situation of the marginalised using very different techniques, attempting to tell these stories in a mode different to that of hegemonic media. I posit here that one solution to hegemonic exclusion, advocated by Benjamin, overtly sought by Handsworth Songs and in my opinion inadvertently attained by La Haine, is the communication of histories through Storytelling. In conjunction with this investigation, I examine the commercial success (or failure) and critical reception of both works, which cannot be overlooked in this case as the received ideas of majority societal groups need to  be challenged in order to affect change. I conclude here that the disparate but similar situations that incited the creation of these two films affirm that Benjamin was correct, and, further, that the move towards storytelling demonstrates that this is a useful tool in the representation and non-linear depiction of urban diaspora groups. This is particularly true of La Haine, which cannot be said to be directly influenced by Benjamin’s writing but nonetheless finds his theses in its search for a different mode of representation. Were more cultural forms to employ these techniques, the problems shown might perhaps no longer be treated as a ‘historical norm’ by their opponents ‘in the name of progress’.