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The Black Irish Onscreen

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


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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Chapter Two Gendering the Other: Raced Women in Irish Television


(Prosperity (RTE, 2007), Love is The Drug (RTE, 2004) and Fair City (RTE, 1989–present)) This chapter explores contemporary televisual work on racial identities, examining the ability for television programmes to tackle complex issues such as racial and gendered prejudice, human traf ficking, prostitution and marginalization. Julia Kristeva acknowledges that many object to a discussion of art and thought as a way of resolving problems regarding race which are after all, practical. Yet she argues that this same focus on the intellectual can yield valuable information on how and why we have these conf licts in the first place: Facing the problem of the foreigner, the discourses, dif ficulties, or even the deadlocks of our predecessors do not only make up a history; they constitute a cultural distance that is to be preserved and developed, a distance on the basis of which one might temper and modify the simplistic attitudes of rejection and indif ference. (1993: 104) The black Irish are often positioned outside the nation according to an historically established cultural distance. The representation of the black man in Irish society is conf lated with fears of foreign inf luence following British rule, as well as existing prejudices regarding Ireland’s own Others (Travellers, Jews). As has been noted, onscreen the foreign is most fre- quently equated with the non-white, and its inf luence is perceived as cor- ruptive to women rather than men, as Catherine Nash notes: In ef forts to secure cultural autonomy and maintain the cultural purity...

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