A screening of Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Roma’

Recently Birkbeck’s School of Business, Economics and Informatics and International Student Administration (ISA) held a Netflix party screening of Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar-winning film, ‘Roma’ that was open to all students. In this blog, two Birkbeck students share their experience of watching and discussing the film as part of the event.

Azucena Garcia Gutierrez

Azucena Garcia Gutierrez

Being an international student at Birkbeck has been one of the best experiences I have ever had in my life. One of the things I have found the most fascinating in an international atmosphere is the fact that you get to know people from all over the world. Not only have I had the opportunity to learn from my classmates’ traditions, lifestyle, religion and mindset, but I have also learnt to share what my own country represents as well. The cinema screening for international students organised by William Richards and La Young Jackson has been such a wonderful opportunity to share more about Mexico and its history in the 1970s through the movie called Roma.

Roma, written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, received ten nominations at the 91st Academy Awards and it also became the Best Foreign Language Film for the Best Cinematography and Best Director. Not only is Roma worth watching due to its extraordinary appraisal, but I also considered it demonstrated a slice of Mexico’s reality at that time. I believe that Roma is a good opportunity to show Mexico and part of its salient topics in history that strike a chord in our country. The use of political issues, protests, earthquakes, and single-parenting loneliness are among many of the reasons why Roma is worth seeing.  I strongly believe that knowing about the history of a place and community sheds light to a better understanding of its present in a different perspective.

Azucena Garcia Gutierrez is studying MA Applied Linguistics and Communication and is a Chevening Scholar.

Natalia

Natalie Albin Legorreta

During the viewing, done through Netflix Party, we discussed various things as we watched the film. I believe it added a good deal of commentary to watch with native Mexicans who could contextualise and explain parts of the history while allowing the viewers to form their own opinions and questions as well. It is through watching these films that evoke so much from a specific culture but resonate with people outside of it that we can truly begin to understand what it is to be a global citizen.

Roma is told through the perspective of Cleo, a maid to a middle-class family living in Mexico during the 1970s. Her and the family’s tribulations are almost autobiographical for Cuarón, however feels as though it is the story of most Mexicans. From a father leaving his family, to earthquakes and students killed by political oppression, everything feels all-to-familiar to several generations of Mexicans.

It is interesting to see how the film has not only reached a special place for Mexicans, but for everyone who watches it. It feels like a perfect slice-of-life to understand the culture for a specific country but it seems to touch a cord with most people. Perhaps, as La Young pointed out during the viewing, it’s the camera movements, how it follows Cleo around through panoramic shots as if she were a soldier in a war film. Or perhaps it’s the subtle way in which the film shows the grand scale of collective pain through the world with images of oppression and depression. Whichever it is, watching Roma with other Birkbeck students was a wonderful experience that I hoped they enjoyed just as much.

Natalia Albin Legorreta is completing an MA in Screenwriting at Birkbeck.

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Birkbeck and Heritage Lottery: working together to build Newham resident’s social media skills

Birkbeck’s Access and Engagement work to provide people who face additional barriers to accessing higher education with advice, guidance and free dip-in learning opportunities. The Department works with a lot of community partners and this year has been developing a programme of volunteering with professional services staff so that our non-academic colleagues can share their expertise with community organisations and residents in east London.

While planning our outreach work for Newham Heritage Month, the Heritage Lottery Foundation approached us to ask whether anyone at Birkbeck could help deliver a session to local community groups about how to use social media to promote their events. I straight away headed to the Comms team and asked them whether they’d be interested in getting involved!

I’ll hand over now to Jessica and Rebekah to tell you more about their experience with the Heritage Lottery- thank you both! We are still looking for volunteers across the College to deliver online content, so if you are interested in getting involved email Hester at getstarted@bbk.ac.uk.

Birkbeck, Stratford campus

We work in the communications team in Birkbeck. A typical day for us would be coming up with ideas and making content that is shared on our social media channels. Content can range from blogs, to videos to infographics and images and features staff, students and the occasional owl. We are often behind a screen (or camera), so we were keen to volunteer for this skill-sharing opportunity with some of the London Borough of Newham’s residents.

We decided to get involved because we wanted to assist the local community with developing their ideas on how to showcase their events to their audiences. Together we came up with a workshop that we hoped would introduce attendees to social media and help them start thinking of ways they can interact with existing and new audiences.

Social media can feel a bit overwhelming to someone who doesn’t use it in a professional capacity, so we hoped that we would be able to give practical steps that could help attendees promote their events. We also saw it as an opportunity to get out of the office and improve our communication skills and practice public speaking!

The session took place in Stratford Library, across the road from our Stratford Campus. The group varied in age, gender, and background and were all looking to learn how they can promote and run their events throughout Newham Heritage Month.

On arrival we were met by a room full of attendees, a positive start! We were introduced by Jan who had organised and facilitated the session. Our presentation opened with a brief introduction to Birkbeck and a chance for the attendees to write down and share their questions and intentions for the session.

We then talked them through the various social media platforms and demonstrated the best ways to showcase content on each of them.  We shared thoughts on how to write blogs to generate more content that can be shared on social media. Attendees were engaged and asked questions, so the session felt interactive.

To conclude, we referred to the questions posed to us. It was affirming to know that we were able to answer the questions and hopefully, we were able to put people’s minds at ease as they take their first steps into the world of social media.

Overall, the experience was great as it gave us the opportunity to reflect on what we do and the skills we have gained through our roles and then impart our knowledge on people who are making a difference in their community.

 

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The Windrush Betrayal

Zeljka Oparnica, PhD student in the Department of History, reports on journalist Amelia Gentleman’s talk about the Windrush Scandal that took place as part of the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology’s Discover the Past lecture series that welcomes Birkbeck students, alumni and guests.

The Empire Windrush in 1947.

The Empire Windrush in 1947.

Amelia Gentleman’s reportages in the past two years covered a series of immigration issues that became known as The Windrush scandal. In this talk, she covered the background of both her reporting and the results it had provoked.

Professor Jan Rueger, Head of the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology Department greeted the audience and introduced the speaker and her book, stressing an important historians’ credo: “People’s voices matter, individual lives matter, and persistent research and adept covering of injustice can make a difference.” Amelia Gentleman began by reflecting on her background in history. That was a great introduction to the talk that followed the storylines of individuals leading to the discovery of a systematic fallacy, showcasing the background of “big history.”

What led to the series of reportages was a single case which came to Gentlemen through an NGO in November 2017. It was a story about a woman who came to the United Kingdom in her early childhood and was detained and about to be deported to Jamaica at the age of 61. For about two years prior to her detention, she had been receiving letters from the Home Office warning her about her illegal status. What at first glance seemed to be an oversight by the Home Office, turned out to be just the first among many isolated cases. The day when the article was printed in the Guardian, Gentleman received a call from the son of a man in a similar situation facing deportation. The individual cases started to line up and it became evident there was more to the series of what seemed like lone, disturbing cases. Her emphatical but sober writing, followed by amazing photo portraits, incited readers’ reactions and brought the well-needed attention.

Amelia Gentleman with her book 'The Windrush Betrayal'

Amelia Gentleman with her book ‘The Windrush Betrayal’.

Beyond talking to a number of affected individuals, Gentleman also referred to immigration lawyers, law centres, and PMs from areas with high immigration rates. As the stories received ever more publicity and caused a public uproar, the Home Office reacted to individual cases, and ministers offered half-hearted apologies. There was a rush to resolve the most prominent cases, and it was difficult for all the people invested in helping to connect the dots.

After months of research, Amelia Gentleman came to a true historical revelation. Behind the dozens of comprehensive individual reportages were around 500,000 cases of undocumented people who were born in the Commonwealth countries and came legally, as imperial citizens, to the United Kingdom in the period between two Immigration Acts, namely 1948 and 1973. The lack of personal documents, such as passports, went hand in hand with what Gentleman called “the general British papers distrust.” Namely, even today 17% of British citizens do not possess passports, and in the previous decades, the number was much higher. It became apparent that the trigger was the so-called Hostile Environment, the Tory anti-immigration policies that came to power in the early 2010s. It became apparent how the citizenship of thousands of people depended on the unjust context of the present.

The stories reached their peak in 2018, overlapping with the seventieth anniversary of the arrival of the ship Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks in Essex. Since those affected by the new Hostile Environment policies were the descendants of the people who arrived in the same period, and it seemed like an appropriate name for the scandal Gentleman’s reportages.

However, Gentleman still feels bitter-sweet about the outcomes of her work. As a direct result of the stories’ publication, Home Secretary Amber Rudd resigned in April 2018 and a public promise was given to all affected that they could claim compensation from 200 to 572 million pounds. Up until today, over eight thousand people affected by the scandal have been granted citizenship or papers that confirm their full legal status. The number of detainees in deportation camps has also decreased. However, only 32 people have received some compensation, and many of those who have a right to compensation have either died or are very old. The Hostile Environment policies have not been repealed nor debated. With this sobering overview, Amelia Gentleman ended her talk by underlining that the list of tasks is long. For both journalists and historians.

In the well-established Birkbeck tradition, the talk sparked a comprehensive discussion that lasted for another hour.

 

 

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The Map is not the Territory: Re-imagining Place, Reweaving Story

Natalie Mitchell, a first-year MA Contemporary Literature & Culture student, shares insights from Professor Marina Warner’s lecture that took place as part of the celebration of the 100-year anniversary of Birkbeck joining the University of London.

City of women map by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, ‘City of Women 2.0’, 2019. Courtesy: the artists

Professor Dame Marina Warner took her audience on a fascinating journey through the role of mapping in storytelling and memory, in her lecture, which forms part of the 100 Years of the University of London lecture series. Using Alfred Korzybski famous axiom ‘the map is not the territory’, which suggests that a map cannot encompass the true quality of a place, Professor Warner considered the re-imagining of place and how mapping can become a rebellious act.

She began the lecture considering the many roles of cartography in territory making, defining borders, resources, military and governance, and how this informs our memory of place. The map attempts to ‘actualise history’ through naming, marking and dividing, but the construction of history is a type of narrative. A point Professor Warner emphasised through the words history and story, which are the same in many languages. As such, mapping can control the narrative of a place and becomes an important tool for colonisers, although it may bear little resemblance to the reality of a place by its indigenous people.

Adam Dant – Shoreditch as New York – 2018

The activity of creating maps can also realise fiction, such as the detailed fictional maps in the novels Gulliver’s Travels and The Lord of the Rings. Similarly, star maps give mythical gods a presence in reality through the stargazer’s eye and theme parks and Disney castles parody real locations through the child’s imagination. In this way, the fictional locations of stories can become real locations; these narratives ‘folding back’ onto the actual.

Professor Warner went on to suggest that the map can function in time as well as space, making the past present. This was particularly notable in Emma Willard’s mapping of aboriginal tribes in America and her Progress of the Roman Empire, charting time using the course of the Amazon river. These reworkings of maps can also perform a ‘historical resistance’ as seen in Layla Curtis’ NewcastleGateshead collaged map of all the places renamed after those cities, which highlights the colonial activity of claiming places through naming. Such use of cartography revealed the potential rebellious nature the renaming of maps can perform.

Artist Mona Caron and cartographer Ben Pease - Monarchs and Queens - 2010

Artist Mona Caron and cartographer Ben Pease – Monarchs and Queens – 2010

This type of resistance was expanded further by Professor Warner through many recent examples of the renaming and reworking of maps and places. In Paris in 2015, Osez le Feminisme flyered the city’s street signs, renaming them to notable women from history. Artists have also reimagined places via the redrawing of maps, such as Rebecca Solnit’s and Adam Dant’s maps, which create a visual narrative, questioning the authority of the map and returning to a cartography blending art and science. Similarly, Simon Patterson’s iconic reworking of the London tube map in his work The Great Bear renamed the stations after a myriad of famous and forgotten figures from history. Through each of her examples, Professor Warner showed how the reimagining of the map ‘makes the familiar unfamiliar’ and how a sense of place can be reclaimed by those in situ.

Simon Patterson - The Great Bear - 1992

Simon Patterson – The Great Bear – 1992

Professor Warner’s lecture was bookended by her recent work with a collective of young migrants in Palermo, Sicily, through the Stories in Transit workshop project Giocherenda. These workshops involved the young people developing stories of the city using the figure of The Genius of Palermo, a 15th century icon who has become a synonymous symbol of the city. The workshop took place around the city, where the young people placed the historical figure in different locations. Through this, they could develop their own sense of their new home in Palermo, but through the use of the city’s history. She expressed how it was the children who wanted to use mapping in their story creations and in doing so created a sense of belonging in an unfamiliar place.

Professor Warner concluded her lecture by emphasising the importance of continuing to create stories. Storytelling is an action and a way of history-making and in the days of fake news and big data, it is even more paramount.

Further information: 

 

 

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