In the first quarter of 2016 alone, 64 per cent of refugees were refused entry to the UK – short film ‘Home’ puts that in perspective
Why is it that we’re spurred into action, bubbling over with rage when Harambe the gorilla or Cecil the lion are murdered, but are numb to real, actual people who die in an attempt to flee the terror inflicted on their homes, their countries? There is a dehumanisation epidemic regarding refugees and immigrants. Politicians and right-wing media have been sowing irrational fear, and the recent Brexit vote is the unconscionable outcome. Now racists and bigots are using that result as an excuse to spout hate. It’s almost like xenophobes who voted for xenophobia took the vote’s outcome as permission to be xenophobic.
Despite their need for our help, 64 per cent of refugees seeking asylum in the UK in the first quarter of 2016 were refused. Only 1,963 people were granted entry in that period. To open our eyes to the refugee crisis, director Daniel Mulloy created a short film called “Home”. The film stars Skins alum Jack O’Connell and The Borgias’ Holliday Grainger, a couple who are forced to flee their home, travelling in the boot of a car through checkpoints and over borders while avoiding gunfire. It’s not an easy watch. Still, Mulloy hopes his film will shock viewers into a realisation that a few circumstantial tweaks are the difference between you reading this and a mother, father or child fighting for their lives.
Just a few weeks ago, a zoo shot Harambe the gorilla and people were furious over his death. At the same time, more than 700 refugees or migrants died, yet the gorilla was front-page news. How do you feel about the dichotomy between the way both events affect us and how they’re told in the media?
Daniel Mulloy: I think part of the answer may lie in the question. You use the gorilla’s name, ‘Harambe’, and the ‘700 refugees or migrants’ are reduced to labels and numbers. Labels and numbers are easy to turn off from, we connect with individuals.
When images of a young boy, who was found dead on the beach, was picked up by the media, the story enraged and horrified people, perhaps more so than the gorilla being shot.
Humans are genuinely empathetic. It is in our nature, people can connect to a single animal being shot or a single child dying in tragic circumstances, but turn that into hundreds, thousands or millions and I think maybe we block ourselves from feeling it. It is easier to think that something is distant, not our problem, too big to solve. We turn off.
With the gorilla there is a clear narrative that makes a self-contained, clean and simple story, depicting a slain hero, a child victim and a shooter. Who we are, our responsibilities and place in the world are far more grey and confused.
Perhaps it also says something about the media and about our nature as consumers. I am not sure how big a part this plays but we are also part of a huge machine that sells elements of war to faceless governments, corporations all over the world. We know, deep down, that there is a shadier side to who we are, (and) I believe it’s likely that elements of that feed into our perception of the world. There are significant elements of our past, both recent and long-gone, that if would make us feel great shame if we think about them. So perhaps we’ve conditioned ourselves to switch off from the horror.
“After a stint with their family in a war zone, it’s likely that even the most hardened xenophobes would begin to soften and empathise” – Dan Mulloy
What interested you particularly about this project?
Daniel Mulloy: In early 2015 I met a couple, they were relaxed and in love. Circling them was a bright and energetic toddler who was pulling a wheely bag as he ran. They were smart but their clothes hung on thin frames, a little ill-fitting. We began chatting and I learned that their clothes had been donated to them by nuns and their son had just been operated on after falling ill sleeping on the floor of a Hungarian jail cell. We were in Kosovo and they were being returned to a nightmare that they had risked their lives to escape. I left them feeling sickened and disturbed. I then returned to the UK, billboards were up on streets that were overtly racist and our politicians were dehumanising those fleeing war zones, referring to them as ‘swarms’ and living in ‘jungles’. The film grew out of the fact that wanted to respond.
What kind of emotions and thoughts did it stir in you shooting this film?
Jack O’Connell: We shot the film over five days, with two of those in Kosovo just outside the capital, Pristina, and across the border with Albania. Everyone was extremely hospitable and welcoming in the unfortunate backdrop of a recently war-torn area.
Do you think that films have the power to make a difference?
Jack O’Connell: For some people, maybe. On the whole I’m not sure. Realistically, the hope can only ever be to raise awareness on a grander scale. I hope we’ve succeeded in telling a real tale on what is definitely a worldwide humanitarian crisis, which should therefore reflect on us all.
What is your personal reaction when you hear about countries or politicians saying regressive or close-minded things about accepting refugees?
Daniel Mulloy: I feel a mix of frustration, anger and sadness. The people who mean the most to me in life are refugees. My grandmother was an amazing woman, she added so much to my life and I believe she added hugely to the lives of everyone she knew. She was the sole survivor, from her family, of the holocaust which she fled when she became a refugee. She went on to become a great pediatrician and saved many children’s lives. My partner is also a former refugee, having fled the genocide in Kosovo. Refugees are fleeing their homes to save their lives. I feel sometimes that those politicians sitting in safety, with passports that can get them into almost any part of the world, should imagine what would happen if they had that passport taken from them and were put into the middle of a live war zone with their loved ones. I suppose that is in some way what I was trying to do with the film – (to) ask, ‘How would you survive?’
After a stint with their family in a war zone, it’s likely that even the most hardened xenophobes would begin to soften and empathise. I believe how we behave towards those in crisis reflects something about who we choose to be.