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The Black Irish Onscreen

Representing Black and Mixed-Race Identities on Irish Film and Television

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Zelie Asava

This book examines the position of black and mixed-race characters in Irish film culture. By exploring key film and television productions from the 1990s to the present day, the author uncovers and interrogates concepts of Irish identity, history and nation.
In 2009, Ireland had the highest birth rate in Europe, with almost 24 per cent of births attributed to the ‘new Irish’. By 2013, 17 per cent of the nation was foreign-born. Ireland has always been a culturally diverse space and has produced a series of high-profile mixed-race stars, including Phil Lynott, Ruth Negga and Simon Zebo, among others. Through an analysis of screen visualizations of the black Irish, this study uncovers forgotten histories, challenges the perceived homogeneity of the nation, evaluates integration, and considers the future of the new Ireland. It makes a creative and significant theoretical contribution to scholarly work on the relationship between representation and identity in Irish cinema.
This book was the winner of the 2011 Peter Lang Young Scholars Competition in Irish Studies.

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Introduction Positioning the Black Irish: Theoretical, Historical and Visual Contexts

Extract

In 1976 Radharc produced The Black Irish for RTE, a factual programme on mixed-race Irish-Caribbeans, exploring their history and daily lives in Kinsale, Montserrat. Known as the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, the space is Irish in its traditions, names, accents and people, and apart from Ireland, Montserrat is the only country where St Patrick’s Day is a national holi- day.1 The show declared that given their intimate links ‘perhaps the white Irish of Ireland and America today have something to learn from the black Irish of Montserrat’. Yet, while the diaspora has become very important to Irish culture since then, particularly in 2013, the year of The Gathering, the existence of the black Irish in Ireland or in the diaspora has only become a major issue in recent years. Since Radharc’s documentary, mixed-race/ black actors have featured in many Irish fiction films (particularly since the inf lux of migrants in the 1990s), including: Pigs (Black, 1984), The Crying Game ( Jordan, 1992), Mona Lisa ( Jordan, 1986), The Nephew (Brady, 1998), When Brendan Met Trudy (Walsh, 2000), Breakfast on Pluto ( Jordan, 2005), Isolation (O’Brien, 2005), Boy Eats Girl (Bradley, 2005), Irish Jam (Eyres, 2006), The Front Line (Gleeson, 2006), New Boy (Green, 2007), The Blaxorcist (King, 2007), Cactus (Molatore, 2007), Kisses (Daly, 2008), Traf ficked (O’Connor, 2010) and The Guard (McDonagh, 2011). This book takes a close look at work from the 1990s to the present day, analysing these intercultural figures and questioning the idea of Irishness as a static 1...

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