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Dehumanisation And The Ones That Get Away by Dr Lee Salter

It can be slightly annoying to hear people’s feedback about a film. It seems not to matter what you do, audiences will tend to take what they want from it. Sometimes it’s best to ignore them and let the film do the talking, other times you try to disabuse them of their mistakes.

Scapegoat

Over the summer left-wing Americans were praising on Twitter an earlier film of mine, The Fourth Estate for its adoration of the New York Times and its withering critique of the Trump administration.

I tried for a short time to convince them that my film was not that film of the same title, and, as I’ve said at many an Injustice screening, in fact I don’t care whether it’s the New York Times, the Daily Mail or The Canary, all media is rubbish and simply serves their audiences with the diet of dross that they’ve prefigured their attachment to out of fashion or politics, while walling themselves off from any contrary ideas.

You realise pretty quickly how people in this world are. They want to know what they want to know, and information to the contrary is to be ignored. From the far left to the far right, we live in a culture of flat earthers.

Ignoring asylum detention?

For all the praise for Injustice there were always going to be things missing.

Anyone who’s followed Injustice will know it was made in the main with very little, under very tough circumstances. I was homeless and penniless at the time with kids to feed, which meant I couldn’t do what I might have done otherwise, but then I hope its conditions of production are reflected in the film itself.

So I do tend to grimace when people under rather better life conditions tell me what I did or didn’t do in the film.

At one screening someone told me I should have looked at immigrant detention. It was assumed I hadn’t tried – the knowledge of whether I had or not would have disrupted their proud condemnation.

In fact, the first blog I wrote about the film was about an early interview I did for the film with a good friend of mine who served 8 months for immigration offences.

His story was pretty interesting. He was a revolutionary who’d fled across Europe after he found he was to be assassinated.

He reluctantly arrived in the UK (having desired to go to Italy) without a word of English, only to be arrested at the airport and sent more or less directly to prison, with a few stops in police cells and courts on the way.

Paradoxically, having checked his papers, the police offered for him to stay in the cells overnight as he’d missed his comrades picking him up from the airport. It was because of that stay that they found his documents were fake…. and then it was off to prison.

There’s no doubt his prison experience was traumatic, but his tales were mostly witty. His main gripe was his cell mate watching Eastenders and other rubbish while he was trying to read and conduct a revolution from his cell.

When his mates came to collect him on his eventual release, they couldn’t understand his words. Having arrived with no English, he’d learned prison slang as his first language.

Having done the interview, he asked me not to use it. I tried to convince him, we talked about pixelating his face and so on, but he didn’t want his story out there.

We discussed what people are like, and although he’d served time in prison merely for fleeing certain death, he’s now become rather successful and didn’t want his past getting in the way of his future.

Where are the women at?

I think it was at the same screening that I was told I hadn’t looked at women in prison.

I patiently explained the reasons for this (reasons which I understand the asker of the questions has since misrepresented), and I think I petulantly replied if he wanted to make such a film, I’d gladly help.

Indeed I’d asked a female ex-prisoner for an interview for Injustice right at the outset. She couldn’t find a job and nor could I. She was interested but then went cold.

After she watched Injustice she told me she’d been advised not to speak to the media, which is why she went off the idea. I smiled while pointing to myself with my eyebrows lifted “me? The media?”.

We became friends thereafter. We’d chat about our experiences of the criminal justice system and how absurd and surreal it is. Her case, time in prison, and her confident explication of things that happened, things that didn’t happen and things that shouldn’t happen left me no choice but to ask to interview her for a film about women and prison.

We filmed and then got drunk.

I finished the pilot for the film in question and something ironic happened.

She almost inadvertently gave an interview to a mainstream news outlet, which was broadcast in her local community, without her consent, leading to her child being bullied at school.

Not long after, her victim’s family came out on social media to attack her for several days. In part as a result of the experience, she asked me not to release the wonderful and prescient little film about the horror of women in prison.

These stories remain untold.

It’s not us, it’s you

Those two experiences and so many like them are reasons that at so many screenings, when I’m asked in Q&As what we should do about prisons and convicts, I give the unexpected reply that nothing will change until all you (pointing around the room) change.

A former prison officer in the film refers to a bar fight where someone is punched, hits their head and dies. The human who punched is changed from a person to a murderer because of the manner of the fall, not because they are a murderer. Yet they are a murderer in the public eye, their humanity is subsumed by the act.

As I’ve said many times over this year or so, there’s a darkness in humanity. We know the terms: “scapegoat” and “folk devil”. Human communities and individuals seem to need outgroups and folk devils in order to function. The ills of the world are projected onto them, as if that will solve its problems.

For the right it might be the migrant, for the left it might be the police. The process of Othering, of de-humanising people, serves to reinforce the individual’s self-belief, and then generates solidarity in the group. Each group and each member will have their agenda, and when it suits them, will build a wall of presumption around contrary information to ensure the sanctity of the prejudice that excludes the Other.

I told the asylum-seeker that his work community (given its politics) would praise him for telling his story, but he knew. I tried to convince the female ex-prisoner, but she also knew.

For all the well-meaning people in the world, there’ll always be the majority which, whether through ideology, personal angst or to cover up their own shortcomings, will never again see the ex-prisoner as a human being.

For all of the good words written and spoken, the partiality of the particular in our fragmented, tribalised society will ensure that those who have done wrong will always find themselves reduced to the act, as if their humanity never existed in the first place.

Injustice is an attempt to open up a conversation about such attitudes, which it has done, while at the same time exposing the depth of the problems discussed here quite precisely.

 

 

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