Becoming refugees:Exodus and contemporary mediations of the refugee crisis

Bennett, Bruce Thomas (2018) Becoming refugees:Exodus and contemporary mediations of the refugee crisis. Transnational Cinemas, 9 (1). pp. 13-30. ISSN 2040-3526

[thumbnail of Exodus final]
PDF (Exodus final)
Exodus_final.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial.

Download (531kB)


During 2015 an unprecedented 1.3 million migrants applied for asylum in Europe. Those entering or seeking entry to Europe in 2015 were largely seeking refuge from wars, conflicts, and political oppression in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea. While some arrived via the Balkan land routes, the vast majority had made treacherous Mediterranean sea-crossings, with an estimated 3771 drowning in 2015. In the summer of 2015 newspapers and news websites were filled with images of drowned children, people desperately paddling towards shore on overloaded dinghies, and the flotsam of crossings discarded on beaches. However, one of the most notable features of the depiction of the refugee crisis has been the mainstreaming of racist political rhetoric, allied with the implementation of racist policies and practices against foreigners. The scale of this campaign of state-racism is unprecedented in Europe since the Nazi propaganda of the Second World War, and has transatlantic echoes in the xenophobic, isolationist language of the US presidential campaign. This article examines the political aesthetics of the current ‘refugee crisis’, and the life-and-death stakes of the struggle over the meaning of foreignness that is taking place, and focuses on emergent forms of political film-making that employ mobile technologies. These include videos made on phones and distributed online or edited into documentary films, all of which are being employed in a struggle over the meaning of refugeeism. The mobile phone has acquired a crucial symbolic significance with regard to the plight of refugees, offering a means of both documenting their experience and distributing these audio-visual records. For instance, the Chinese artist/activist Ai Weiwei, has used smartphones in the project #safepassage in order to record his journeys around refugee camps in Europe and the Middle East. This article examines films made by refugees, which document their journeys to and across Europe; the key case study is Exodus: Our Journey to Europe (2016), a three-part documentary broadcast on the BBC. A participatory project, Exodus assembles footage shot by refugees filming their journeys on mobile phones at huge personal risk. The article ask swhat role film plays in documenting, and intervening in, the refugee crisis, and to what extent documentaries such as Exodus constitute a reconfigured or expanded transnational cinema, a new aesthetic that can offer an alternative perspective that moves beyond the conventional binary categories of foreigners as either powerless, infantilised victims or dangerous invaders.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Transnational Cinemas
ID Code:
Deposited By:
Deposited On:
04 Jun 2018 12:16
Last Modified:
20 Sep 2023 01:11