Immigration Street makes me sad about Britain, as a documentary filmmaker and as a human being.
It is a sad day when we can no longer have an open conversation on television. I was drawn to documentary filmmaking because for me it represents the chance for ordinary people to have their say in a public forum, reaching a wide audience. From a journalistic perspective, hopefully exposing truths and wrong doings, and from a personal perspective, highlighting the common threads which connect us all; enabling us to relate to one another better.
But the people of Derby Road, Southampton who chose to take part in the programme 'Immigration Street' were ostracised, threatened and in one case even hospitalised for choosing to exercise their right to speak openly about their lives on camera.
The small minority of people who chose to behave in this vile and misguided way need to take a good hard look at themselves. Yet although their actions sicken me, I can empathise with their anger. Throughout the film it seemed most of the anger from local people stemmed from the fact the programme was being called 'Immigration Street'. Non-white people living on the road who have lived their all their lives and were born in the UK, understandably objected to being labelled in this way, as for them it is factually incorrect.
The stats used in the voiceover at the top of the programme failed to in any way justify the title, as they do not account for people living in the area who are non-white, but who identify as British because they were born here: "The last national census revealed that 86% of people living in Britain describe themselves as white British. Around Derby Rd it was 17%."
Perhaps this raises the question, when does the blood line of an immigrant cease to be labelled as such? If your mother was an immigrant are you an immigrant too? If your mother's mother was an immigrant are you still an immigrant? If you do not have white skin and a British accent are you to be labelled an immigrant? If you have a baby with an immigrant is your child an immigrant too?
The programme makers and commissioners at Channel4 chose the title 'Immigration Street', specifically because they knew it would create controversy and therefore ratings. This choice now lives on the consciences of those who made it. They, like everybody else are part of a pressurised system which values ratings and therefore profit, over people.
Deeper than this anger over being labelled though, those who objected to the programme and it's salacious title did so because the words 'immigration' and 'immigrant', sadly, hold negative connotations, which they did not want themselves nor their community associated with.
As a human being it makes me sad that immigration has become so stigmatised, that as a nation we are so unwelcoming to foreigners, yet expect to travel and live wherever we want ourselves; choosing to use the word 'ex-pats' instead to describe ourselves in an identical situation.
The film ends up being about the making of 'Immigration Street', rather than, as the filmmakers may well have set out to portray, a fair observational representation of life on Derby Road and and a precinct for a discussion about immigration, by those at the heart of the debate.
But with the making of and the objection to the programme now at the forefront of the narrative, the filmmakers repeatedly ask the question 'What is wrong with the words immigrant or immigration?'. This may seem like a fair question, except for one point, none of the people asking it are immigrants or even non-white British.
As a white British person and filmmaker I hold my hands up right now and say that I do not understand what life is like as an immigrant living in the UK. However I, like the filmmakers can read and have a good idea from articles I've read, and incidentally immigrants I've spoken to, that life in the current climate is not great for immigrants in the UK and they receive an awful lot of prejudice, hatred and racism in this country.
I cannot see how the makers of this programme can earnestly ask the question 'what is wrong with the word immigrant?', seemingly failing to understand why some of the local people shunned being publicly labelled with a term which brings contempt and hatred into their lives.
As a filmmaker 'Immigration Street' makes me sad because it glaringly captures on camera the fact that our media industry is an 'us and them' scenario. Why weren't any of the filmmakers immigrants? Why was every single crew member I saw white skinned? Would the people of Derby Road have behaved differently if they felt their stories were being told by people who shared the same experiences as them, the same understanding of their lives? Most probably.
As somebody really only just starting out in my TV career I probably risk getting a few powerful peoples backs up by writing this. But at the risk of sounding petulant, I don't care. A huge part of my motivation for pursuing a career in TV documentaries is to bring my understanding, having grown up in a working class, single parent family on a council estate in Sunderland, into the mix; to try and ensure the stories of people I can relate to and understand the situations of are fairly represented.
It would therefore be highly hypocritical of me not to stand up for a group of people who I cannot directly relate to, nor speak for; but who I see being hugely unrepresented in my industry.