#LetsTalkAboutIt: Is This 1938? Xenophobia and The Media

#LetsTalkAboutIt: Is This 1938? Xenophobia and The Media

I was lucky enough to watch a preview of the film Brooklyn a week or so before it came out in the cinemas. From looking at the posters, I hadn’t thought much of it and went in with fairly low expectations. To my surprise, I laughed out loud (especially when Julie Walters was on screen), was almost moved to tears and left the screening feeling overwhelmingly touched and uplifted. Not in those really schmaltzy ways that sentimental films encourage you to cry repeatedly, but I certainly walked out into a crisp, sunny morning feeling like I had a renewed view on love, friendship and family.

Adapted from Colm Tóibín’s 2009 novel of the same name, the story follows the life of a small-town Irish girl who moves to Brooklyn in the 1950s. Eilis is performed by the fantastic Saoirse Ronan, and it was her portrayal of heart-wrenching homesickness and struggles with adapting that made me consider how the film’s story and message could be applied to recent events. Once I’d spoken about seeing the film to my mum, who had seen it herself a couple of days before I did, it hadn’t occurred to me how many people could relate to this story. Her comments about connecting to Eilis and the similarities that all people go through when they migrate made me consider how prevalent xenophobic rhetoric is in today’s media. Rather than sympathise with stories of refugees being forced to make their way across Europe, we are met with a constant barrage of hateful commentary where British citizens emphasise how small our island is, how ‘they’ are coming over to take our benefits and steal our jobs.

Even when the photograph of a young Syrian boy found washed up on the Turkish coast made headlines and shocked the world, discussions only slightly altered from using the term ‘migrant’ to ‘refugee’. Despite tragedies like this happening every day, the focus of the media has largely been on whether or not European countries can accommodate this influx of people. Considering Britain was the largest empire in the world and at one point controlled one fifth of the its population, it’s interesting that situations which have arisen out of former colonies, and caused tremendous amounts of diaspora, are being rejected as problems we shouldn’t be dealing with.

The rise of parties such as UKIP and others like Front National in France and the Freedom Party in Austria would suggest we are returning to the feeling of xenophobia, with fascist beliefs reminiscent of those widespread in the 1930s. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, recently called out politicians on their use of dehumanising language and stated that, “if we cannot forecast the future, at least we have the past as a guide that should wisen us, alert us to the dangers of using that rhetoric.” Alongside this, the use of statistics like the prediction that Germany will have received 1.5 million migrants by the end of the year should cause concern but not about ourselves or how we will be affected, but about those who have been forced to flee their homes. Indeed, reports presenting ungrateful migrants are only being shown to reinforce the belief that we shouldn’t be helping or supporting those less fortunate.

I wonder if the sympathy felt towards a character like Eilis; someone who is a white, wide-eyed girl willing to work and with good intentions, would be different if she were of another ethnicity or could not speak English. As terms like “swarm” do nothing but harm the image of both migrants and those seeking asylum as well as diminish the fact that they too are human and have just as many rights as we do.


Written by Victoria Rodrigues
Sub Culture Editor


Images (right) – Via Lionsgate & Reuters

Image (header) – Via AP