Academic journal article Refuge

I's Wide Shut: Examining the Depiction of Female Refugees' Eyes and Hands in Stephen Frears's Dirty Pretty Things

Academic journal article Refuge

I's Wide Shut: Examining the Depiction of Female Refugees' Eyes and Hands in Stephen Frears's Dirty Pretty Things

Article excerpt


In 2002, Stephen Frears directed Dirty Pretty Things--one of the few mainstream fictional films to highlight the effects of exile, the complexities of refugee status, and the trials of migrant labour in the "Western" world. Thus far, the minimal number of "refugee" films produced is mirrored by the minimal discussion about those films (or their absence). This essay examines Frears's film with a critical lens that incorporates both theoretical evaluations and aesthetic choices. For instance: how do media representations of refugees and migrants relegate the signification of refugee-ism to visceral, silent, repetitiv, e and subordinated signifiers? Additionally, this essay narrows its interest upon Senay, the female lead of Dirty Pretty Things, to open up a dialogue about fragmented body: missing hands / hyperbolized eyes. Drawing on knowledge of the theoretical implications of those choices, this paper addresses refugees and illegal migrants in film with the hope of initiating conversation about an otherwise relatively silent and untouched cinematic subgenre.


En 2002, Stephen Frears realisa Dirty Pretty Things--un des rares films de fiction grand public a mettre en exergue les contrecoups de l'exil, les complexites liees au statut de refugie et les tribulations du travailleur immigre dans le monde "occidental". Jusqu'ici, le nombre infime & films realises sur le theme des "refugies" est reflete par le peu de debats sur ces films (ou sur leur absence). Cet essai examine le film de Frears avec un ceil critique qui integre aussi bien des evaluations theoriques que des considerations esthetiques. Par exemple : comment les representations des refugies et des immigrants dans les medias releguent-elles le sens du statut de refugie a des signifiants visceraux, muets, repetitifs et subordonnes? De plus, cet essai porte un interet particulier a Senay, l'actrice principale de Dirty Pretty Things, dans le but de lancer un debat sur la fragmentation du corps : les mains absentes/l'hyperbolique des yeux. S'appuyant sur la connaissance des significations theoriques de ces choix, cet article traite du theme des refugies et des migrants illegaux dans les films, dans l'espoir de declencher un debat sur un sous-genre cinematographique relativement confine au silence et tres peu aborde.

Doctor]: How come I've never seen you people before?

Okwe]: Because we are the people you do not see. We are the ones who drive your cabs. We clean your rooms. And suck your cocks.--Dirty Pretty Things (1)

In one of the most anxiety-filled moments of the film Dirty Pretty Things, Stephen Frears s primary character, Okwe, speaks out against the organized dehumanization of refugees (2) and migrants while he participates in the very trafficking that constructs this version of the London "underground." Dirty Pretty Things (2002), nominated for numerous industry awards, including an Oscar in the category of "Best Writing" for screenwriter Stephen Knight, (3) is one of few contemporary, non-documentary, mainstream feature films that addresses the after-effects of illegal immigration and the continuousness of refugee and migrant exploitation in the West (4) as its primary narrative plot. (5) With a filmography of relatively few works, refugee narratives lack the volume necessary to qualify as an obvious cinematic genre, and therefore are struggling to make the political impact that thinkers like Michael M. J. Fischer argue they are capable of. (6) Furthermore, and as a result, there is an absence of critical theory surrounding the limited number of films that exist that fittingly parallels the silence of the subjects themselves. Even Terrence Wright, one of the few theorists who have published on the topic of refugees and motion pictures, inadvertently draws attention to the lack of unique criticism granted to refugee and migrant fiction film. Situating refugee films within broader generic groups that homogenize the experiences of refugees and archetype the works in a manner that could potentially be disempowering, Wright is forced to look outside of the limited selection of filmic examples to determine generic qualities with which to connect the texts. …

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