Migrant Experiences, European Cinema and Queer Identities

Migrant Experiences, European Cinema and Queer Identities

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Published by Routledge in 2020, Queering the Migrant in Contemporary European Cinema, edited by James S. Williams, has recently become available in Open Access at the Open Research Library, as part of the Routledge Gender Studies 2020-2022 collection.

A Blog Post by Pablo Markin.

Williams, James S., ed. Queering the Migrant in Contemporary European Cinema. Routledge, 2020. Accessed October 2, 2020. https://openresearchlibrary.org.
Williams, James S., ed. Queering the Migrant in Contemporary European Cinema. Routledge, 2020. Accessed October 2, 2020. https://openresearchlibrary.org.


Queering the Migrant in Contemporary European Cinema is an exciting and original volume that offers the first comprehensive critical overview of the recent profusion of European films and television productions addressing sexuality-related aspects of migration, while seeking to represent the lives and capture the experiences of LGBTIQ+ migrants and refugees. This collected volume suggests that embodied cinematic representations of queer migrants, even if at times highly ambivalent and contentious, constitute an urgent new repertoire of queer subjectivities and socialities that serve to undermine the patrolled borders of gender and sexuality, nationhood and citizenship, and refigure or queer fixed notions and universals of identity, such as ‘Europe’ and national belonging based on the model of the family. At stake ethically and politically, for the contributions to this book, is the elaboration of a ‘transborder’ consciousness and aesthetics that counters the homonationalist, xenophobic and homo/trans-phobic representation of the ‘migrant to Europe’ figure rooted in the toxic binaries of othering, e.g., the good vs. bad migrant, host vs. guest, indigenous vs. foreigner. Bringing together 16 contributors working in different national film traditions and embracing multiple theoretical perspectives, this powerful and timely collection is likely to be of major interest to both specialists and students in Film and Media Studies, Gender and Queer Studies, Migration/Mobility Studies, Cultural Studies, and Aesthetics.


In his introductory chapter to this edited volume, entitled “Queering the migrant: Being beyond borders ,” James S. Williams highlights that

“[i]n response to the growing numbers of queer migrants and refugees attempting to cross both into and within the EU, contemporary European cinema has witnessed a profusion of innovative and pivotal films addressing themes of sexual migration while seeking to convey queer migrant lives in Europe and at its borders. This process had already begun in the early 2000s with works like Princesa (2001 , Italy/Spain/France/UK/Germany, dir. Hen-rique Goldman), an amalgam of gritty social document and emotive melodrama telling the story of Fernanda, a 19-year-old Brazilian transsexual who goes to Milan and works as a prostitute (‘Princesa’) in order to raise money for her sex-change operation. It has since developed into a dazzling array of films in all forms and formats, from commercial feature films to small-budget video works, shorts and installations, and covering the full spectrum of genres and styles. They range from narrative fictions – powerful, taut, emotional dramas like Unveiled/Fremde Haut (2005, Germany/Austria, dir. Angelina Maccarone), about an Iranian lesbian interpreter assuming a dead man’s identity in order to escape to Germany and avoid capital punishment for homosexual acts, and romantic dramas like A Moment in the Reeds (2017, Finland/UK, dir. Mikko Makela) tracing the intimate emotional and erotic bonds that form between a young (white) Finnish man and a Syrian refugee in rural Finland – to stirring documentaries of grassroots advocacy such as Refugees under the Rainbow (2018, Germany, dir. Stella Traub), where three queer Ugandan refugees tell direct to camera the story of their gruelling attempts to find safe refuge and happiness in Germany, and Re-naissances/Re-births: The Journey of the Soul (2018, France/Russia/China/Peru dir. Santi Zegarra), comprising intimate and affirmative portraits of queer and trans refugees in France (including a transwoman from Columbia, a transman from Russia, a lesbian from Uganda, and a gay man from China). Other more hybrid works include the docu-fiction Refugee’s Welcome (2017, Spain/Germany), a self-styled porn short by well-known queer auteur Bruce La Bruce focusing on the adventures of a young Syrian man (Moonif) who wanders the streets of Berlin after leaving the refugee camp to which he has been assigned, and the freewheeling queer road movie Xenia (2014, Greece, dir. Panos H. Koutras), which employs comedy and fantasy sequences to chart the quest for Greek citizenship undertaken by a flamboyantly styled, Greek-Albanian, adolescent boy and his older brother in the face of homophobic violence. In a still relatively rare instance of migrants recording their journey to Europe as it is taking place, Shelter: Farewell to Eden (2019, France/Italy, 2019, dir. Enrico Masi) provides a first-person portrait documentary portrait of Filipino transsexual Pepsi, a former resistance fighter in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and nurse in Gadaffi’s Libya, now seeking asylum in Italy, France, and the UK. Never directly photographed at her insistence, Pepsi speaks on the soundtrack about the in-between, transitional places of her restless journey and the realities of the queer, Muslim, migrant everyday, complemented formally by Masi’s kaleidoscopic editing style incorporating raw found footage” (Williams, 2020, pp. 4-5).

Edited by Pablo Markin


Williams, James S., ed. Queering the Migrant in Contemporary European Cinema. Routledge, 2020. Retrieved from https://openresearchlibrary.org.

Featured Image Credits

Queer durch Europa, June 4, 2015 | © Courtesy of Cornelia Ernst/Flickr.

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