Discussion Transcript – Dash Cafe: Destination Europe

Josephine Burton (J):

I am Josephine Burton, I am the Artistic Director of Dash Arts and it is a complete pleasure to welcome you all this evening our cafe – Destination Europe. Put your hand if you’ve been to a Dash Café before. A good chunk of you… 

So, Dash Cafés, they are opportunities for us to explore and investigate and research parts of the world that we’re working in at the moment, in a very informal and fun and participative and I hope quite discursive way. And this evening and during the last year and I imagine particularly if negotiations over transition periods continue, we should be doing this for some time. We are asking this question of what it means to be European. 

It emerged for us out of the referendum results in 2016 when we thought, wow – what does it mean for the UK if we’re leaving the EU? What does it mean to be European anyway? And that’s been our journey over the last few years and we’re asking out of artists and thinkers and writers. And tonight we’re asking this question of what does it mean to become European. And it’s really been inspired for me by my friends at the Swedish Embassy who introduced me to a wonderful filmmaker and actress, Bahar Pars, who’s come over this evening from Stockholm with her star… one of the stars of her films, Nanna, who I’m delighted to welcome this evening and to be able to show her films. And she, as we’ll learn later this evening… the conversations that emerged through chatting to my friends from the Swedish Embassy and later with Bahar, has really inspired the conversation this evening about being an actress, being an artist and performer in a non… in a land in which you were not born. And what does it mean and how does it affect your work, and your life, and your identity? 

So we’re going unpack that a little bit more but we’re going start off this evening by seeing two short films made by Bahar. Nana stars in the first one, so we’re going to see her as well. And then after the first two films- it will be about half an hour- we will come on the stage and we will be joined by Houda and Tom and I’ll introduce them properly later. So in the meantime, enjoy the films! Thank you.

[audience applauds]

(film excerpt)

J: So, so… welcome to some of my fantastic speakers this evening… 

I have Tom on my far left who runs Platforma and Counterpoint Arts and we will hear a little bit more about Platforma and Counterpoint, I hope, through the evening, but it’s a delight that he’s been able to come from around the corner.

To join us this evening- Nana who we saw being a terribly awkward actress in the film studio… thank you very much for coming all the way from Stockholm with Bahar to join us this evening and thank you for your role in that beautiful film.

Nana Blondell (N): Thank you for having us.

J: Houda is on my right- Houda… is a complete privilege for me to welcome this evening.

Houda was the star of our Scheherezade… sorry was the star Scheherezade in my colleague’s Tim One Thousand and One Nights production which opened in the UK and premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2011, and it’s really special for me to be able to bring Houda into the conversation this evening and talk very much from her perspective but also through… I imagine through a little bit about her work with Dash, as part of One Thousand and one Nights, which we’ll hear from a little bit later as well.

And to my far right, we have Bahar, who’s like Nana, come over from Stockholm to join us for this evening.

We will see one more short work in progress of Bahar’s a little bit later as part of the conversation. But, I wondered, Bahar, if you could kick off by talking to us about your journey because you started your professional existence as an actress-

Bahar Pars (B): Yes, I worked as actress 10 years before I started to direct and write and be filmmaker…  So, kind of… I was- because I know you also asked me before why I started to do films and it was because I felt so less about the casting… like the first film you saw, you know, that kind of situation I always was in and always it was a stereotype everything and also 10 years ago when I started it was even worse. Much also happened in the few years in the role, I think. So I was like- okay, if I want to do, I cannot wait for someone to write me a good part or film so I thought to do my own films so I can be a really, really big filmmakers, so I can give myself a really really good… you know… something good to play, complex and you know… where I wanted to be.

So it was how I started it, but when I started, it became something else. I just wanted to tell and tell and tell and I couldn’t stop telling. You know, I couldn’t stop writing and telling. And I love it, and I feel that I’m so limited in acting, it’s so limited for me because it’s always dependent on other people, to having the power over me, over how I look, how I talk… So I wanted to change that in a way. So that was actually a surviving tactic- why I started to write and do films.

J: And do you…  The awkwardness of your films… there were so many beautiful things about the films, but the awkwardness that both films, where there’s so much on set, and so much there left for us to try and understand and to watch all of the characters in the films and deal with the fact that there’s a lot of silence in the room… Is that… That’s obviously… that’s driving you as a filmmaker but did you feel that there was just nothing… I mean, those sort of confrontations about stereotypes, about racism… Do you feel that actually you weren’t seeing that at all in the world of Swedish performance?

B: Actually no. Not when I started. 

J: It wasn’t… there was-

B: No, I didn’t feel we had this discussion, also when I was in acting school… I started in 2003 and graduated in 2007 and didn’t have this talk. It was…so when I started it was more about to assimilate yourself, you know? Also maybe because we have immigrants in Sweden… you have it in London much more, and you have a history of it. Maybe we are much younger in Sweden to have a history of immigrants, you know, into film and acting and theatres. I don’t know, it’s just my guess. I really don’t know. Because I don’t feel that there’s so much change either. But I didn’t hear about the discussion. When I was in acting school, it was how to become Swedish, it was how to become and speak perfect Swedish, like you see in Ghetto Swedish… you can hear it because you are not Swedish but she is speaking perfect Swedish, and they just want to change it all the time.

So when I started it was about to assimilate yourself to something that I couldn’t identify with, but I started to do that because I thought it was what you should do, with the language, with how you talk, with tone, with everything… with your body… and everything was just wrong. And they wanted to put you in a sort of person, so for me it’s… I call it assimilation. They wanted us to assimilate. And I feel it also a lot. 

And in Ghetto Swedish it’s the opposite- they want her to be a ghetto. And then she assimilates and this is also wrong.

J: So Nana, tell us about… Did you already know each other before you started working together in Ghetto Swedish?

N: Yeah, we did. I did my admission test for the same theatre school as Bahar went to and I read with Bahar, and that’s how I got into the school, by the help of Bahar. So when she wrote the script, Ghetto Swedish, we were actually on a train to Gothenburg, and then she asked me to play the role and I think we did only one take in the studio, because we had no money, no support from anybody (laughs)… it was like- just do it. And so that was like the first time we started working.

J: And did you write it with Nana in mind?

B: Yes, of course, yes, 100%. If she wasn’t there, I couldn’t write it. If she… of course, I mean she said that I helped her- but it’s not true because you made the test to come in and it’s very hard to get in that acting school, so thank you but it’s not the whole truth, you did that journey yourself- but I felt that if she wasn’t there to see what I’m seeing- because sometimes you think you are crazy, but people say “don’t be so sensitive”, and you’re like, okay, is it me or maybe I have the glasses to see everything in that perspective… is it me or is it them and you’re starting to get paranoia. And my short film that is not finished yet…

And then, if I had not met Nana, I would never like… it would not be possible because for me it was very important that she read the script and she said “I understand”. For me it was everything. I didn’t care about the people that were giving us money because, at first, they didn’t… I was like, Nana understands, then I’m not crazy. So it was very important, yes. 

J: And how did you feel, being part of it? How was it for you, that experience? 

N: It was so easy… it was like working with somebody who speaks the same language as you are. And I think me and Bahar… I mean we’re quite… I mean, we’re not a lot of people of colour in Sweden working in films or who are actors, so when we connected it was like finding home. We had the same experience, we had the same struggles, so, with having her as a director, it was just like everything was super easy. We had the same language, I could understand exactly the script and everything. And I think that’s why we just did one take with the scene. 

J: Because it was you, in some way. 

N: Yeah… yeah… 

J: But actually, your experience is quite different though, because Nana, you were born in Sweden, and Bahar, how old were you when you moved-

B: I was 10, becoming 11. 

J: And where did you move from?

B: Iran. I moved during the 80s in Iran. ’89 actually.

J: And at what point did you decide you wanted to become an actor?

B: Late… I was 20 something. I think in Sweden is late (laughs)… because it’s also about class perspective, it’s like people know what they want to do very early and, for me to be an actress- to do art- it’s for me also a class perspective. You come, you have the… you can do it because you have it with you from home. It’s easy-

J: You have a… you have a duty.

N: Not a duty, you have a…

[Audience]: Privilege?

B: Yes, yes, thank you! You have the privilege that you can be an actress. You don’t have privilege to be an actress when your mother and father take you from a country to another country and they are like- just be a doctor, because we want you to be happy and have the money and have a good life. So to be an actress I think is very privileged… you know, to do art, to write and to direct and also maybe that we see same people in the film and it’s same, same story over and over again, because it’s same people. It’s like a heritage that goes round and goes round… 

J: So you were both fighting your parents who weren’t very keen on you becoming an actress, and the fact that you didn’t think that there was going to be a place for you, as an actress of Iranian background-

B: Absolutely not. So for me to assimilate myself was totally… it’s what you do. It was like, okay, then I will then become Swedish, in a way… and it was so absurd because I couldn’t… 

J: Why couldn’t you?

B: Because it’s about… you know, I talk with my hands (laughs)

I talk loud, and youknow, the people in the school, they didn’t! They were in another way (laughs)

J: So what… what gave you the confidence to apply for drama… to become an actress?

B: Just… not confidence. Just be a rebel. I think to be a rebel against everything and against the system and against everything, but I guess I had some people that told me, you know, you have talent. I was like, I have huh?! I feel that too… So there are also some people who helped me to get there, who saw me. So I would not say that I was just alone in it, but in a way it felt like that very much, that you are alone with it. And it’s very lovely when you start a journey to find your own language, and then you start this kind of schools, institutions, and everything just dies. Because they want you in a certain way. And it’s very hard to fit in, and then you just lose it.

And actually I have a story, because I went back to Iran in 2006… we have this practice, 6 months practice you can do wherever in the country, in some theatres, and I was like, if I go back to Iran, I will find that tone, I will find what I’m missing in myself. And school helped me and they sent me to Tehran and I had some contacts in Tehran… theatre… but it all went so wrong, everything went wrong, from the start… and I went home after 3-4 weeks, I was like, I can’t do it, it broke my heart really-

J: But before you went back, had you ever, had you acted at all in the Farsi?

B: No, nothing in Farsi. I was just back for the summer, visiting my aunt, but not like to go back, and I was like okay, if I go back to Tehran I will be an actor there and it will be great, and I will find… I will be home, you know. And it was totally wrong. I couldn’t speak the language totally free, I was not like them, I was too much, I couldn’t understand the codes between them… It was one of the worst periods in my life, because I did so many wrong things all the time (laughs), and I felt like, oh my God, I am not home. This is my country but I’m not part of it anymore.

J: I’m going to stop you, because I want to keep talking about this, but I want to bring in Houda because Houda had a very similar experience in that she moved to the UK from Egypt when you were similar age…

Houda Echouafni Elsokari (H): From Morocco.

J: From Morocco! I’m sorry, forgive me.

H: I’m half Egyptian half Moroccan.

J: Thank you for clarifying. Is there anything that Bahar was saying that sounds familiar?

H: Oh, so much from it! So, so much… It’s just, it’s so similar, and I moved when I was 11 as well and I so desperately wanted to be English… oh my God, I just… I literally, I was like, this is amazing… I came in, I had a French education, I was from a very poor area in Morocco, and we moved here- I had lots of aunts here, and I was literally just thrown into school, I was… my mum didn’t even come with me, she put me in the bus stop, the 74 bus, there was a girl wearing same uniform as me, I didn’t speak a word of English and she said “Okay, you go with her” (audience laughs). 

And that was it, she went back home. And I was like, okay… And I got on the bus, I had like the money for the bus, didn’t speak a word of English, and it was just one of those things, my mum to this day she goes “yeah, and?”… no remorse for this experience whatsoever … “Yeah, I made you a woman” (audience laughs).

So I got on this bus… and I was tiny, and I got on this bus and I just went to this school and they were like, is your parent with you, and I was like uhm… and I just, you know… that was life, and I was like, this is amazing! And there were all these girls who were wearing the same clothes, and I was like, I could do this. I could fit in here.

But then, with time, I realised I couldn’t really speak the way people were speaking, which made me very angry. So I became a very angry young person because I wanted to express so much and I couldn’t. And I was kind of adopted by these… these kind of… there were Somali and Egyptian, Moroccan… there was a crowd across school that I remember just sort of took me under their wings and they would kind of hand me over to the lunch hall, sort of like, you take her… you know, so they would kind of take me around until I found my footing. And the only class that I loved was English, and we were doing Shakespeare at the time and I couldn’t even speak, but I would try to read and the teachers are so incredible… And I had this one teacher who just said “yeah, you’re really good” (laughs). And I believed it. And that’s how I became an actor. Genuinely she is Miss Jackson, Laetitia Jackson, I remember, because she just never made me feel like… she made me feel like I was good and people would be laughing and I would be like meh… they don’t understand, I’m good (audience laughs).

And, so by the age of 14, I was like, yeah, I’m going to go to drama school. My mum was like, find one. And I did! Like, I had no idea how to go to the library and I went to the wrong one, I was meant to go to Brit and I walked into Selhurst College, that had a B National Diploma in Performing Arts, and so I auditioned for the wrong school and got in. And my mum kept telling people for years, “she went to Brit”. I didn’t (laughs)… but that was my journey to acting, and then, once I was about to graduate actual drama school, I remember very clearly coming and I was really trying to get rid of my accent, my French, my Arabic… all of these things. Trying to make my RP good, you know. Because my dream was to be in theatre and to do Shakespeare and to do all these things and I remember coming- it was my last year- I remember being sent home because there was a national… something, some disaster, and everyone had to go home. And it was 9/11. And I came home and kind of experienced that, and that year was very strange for me… it was my graduating year at Drama School. So I spent all this time trying to lose my accent, and then I came out into the world of casting directors. And my first role was like “can you do an Arabic accent?” (audience laughs). And I was like “okay!” (laughs). And everyone, all the Arab actors who’d been working in the industry for years here were like, oh, actually this whole is really good for us, because we’re getting roles, we don’t have to go for agents… we’re actually getting Arab roles. And I remember going- great! this is… okay, brilliant! And it took me, I would say about 7 to 8 years before I went- no! this is really not great, I’m really tired of these roles that are being written by people who don’t understand my people. And that was the first time I realised I wasn’t just this person who wanted to be English, there was more to me. I was British, I was Egyptian, I was Moroccan, and all of this was a new thing that I had to take ownership of not jump between one and the another and just go- it’s all one, and I have a right to say no. And like Bahar, I was like okay, so now I will act in projects that I like, but now I will also write the things that I want to play and I will produce the things that don’t have characters for me but stories I want to see. And thus, where I’m producing and I’m not acting, I also produce short films.

J: It’s a beautiful analogy these two, it’s like… I’m delighted that at Dash we bring you together. 

But Nana, it’s a slightly different experience for you, because you were born in Sweden and you are mixed background… Can you talk a little bit more… I mean, do you identify with anything that’s been said here about prejudice and stereotypes…?

N: Yeah, definitely, in a way, but I think for me, because I was born Swedish and I feel very Swedish, but I don’t look Swedish, so for me… I always had the language, I have the culture, and I also have my dad’s side… he’s from Ghana, so I have that culture too. But for me, like in the movies, that’s like my entire acting career. Like, they want me to be this ghetto girl and they hired me for that but I’m really not because I was born and raised in a upper class Swedish neighborhood. So I always felt that I didn’t belong anywhere, or that it was hard to find kind of roles or even scripts or characters that were suited for me, because I didn’t exist anywhere. But I think it’s changing a lot, but it’s still… it’s tough… I mean, for me, I think I’m like… we’re two black actresses in Sweden working and I think I’m the only one in television in Sweden. Like, there’s one more girl who does everything that I can’t do. And that’s crazy. So, I mean, for me and Bahar, we are so alone. We have no one to kind of… I mean, they’re coming… a lot of girls are coming-

[Audience member]: Identify to?

N: Yeah, to identify. Or, if you can’t see it you can’t be it. So everything we do, for all like black girls in Sweden, they’re like “Oh my God it’s you!” You know, I represent every one of them when I’m on television, and that’s a heavy burden to carry.

J: And presumably not enough interesting work has been written that embraces people of colour in Sweden and to some extent, in the UK as well-

N: Yeah… I think… yeah, this year I did a character, the first one that was actually written for a Swedish person. She’s called Leana. I think that’s the first one I’ve ever done.

J: I want to bring in Tom, because obviously Tom, according to the fantastic biography I get in the program, Tom is both… kind of works in this film of refugee council, but is himself a writer… a playwright. And I wondered if your work at Platforma has informed the way that you are, as a writer, and are you writing differently as a result of this extraordinary work you’ve been doing with refugees?

Tom Green (T): Oh, I wasn’t expecting that question.

J: Oh, sorry… Start with your work at Platforma…

T: I do… I will respond to it.

J: Sorry…

T: No, that’s ok (laughs)

I think that, for me, at Counterpoints Arts, we work in a whole variety of ways on the arts, refugees, migration, social change, and a lot of that work, especially for me, it’s about platform and network, it’s focused on artists and arts organizations working in this area. And for me, the most profound experience has been meeting lots of different artists in lots of different forms. So as a writer, I’d work in theatre and radio, but just, for example, like this evening, just meeting different people, and the fact that we work with lots of people from different backgrounds is part of that, but in all honesty it’s also meeting lots of people working with very different practice. I suppose, generally all with an approach of sort of social engagement and social change and from a diverse background.

So for me, I’d always… I’d never felt I was going to write a story about… it wasn’t… I didn’t have an experience relevant but in fact, a couple of years ago- I’m interested in slightly esoteric sports stories from the past- sport being a massive part of our social history in this country, that kind of gets ignored in history books, and I found the story about a boxer in 1810, a guy called Tom Molineaux, who came from America, he was a free slave, he was black, and he became one of the most famous people in this country in 1810, when these boxing matches had tens of thousands of people out in the open air. He was, at the time, really was the most famous person in the country, but no one’s ever heard of him. So I wrote a story, I just wrote his story and the writer who was with him but also had learnt that you can make that work in the context of a variety of engagement. So a lot of the work we do at Counterpoints is with artists who might be making a work but there’s also a question of how is this… what impact is this having, who are we engaging with, what change might it make. And that’s something that has definitely informed my work.

Something I was just thinking while everyone was talking, apart from the fantastic films- and thank you very much- but further back, I think it’s so valuable in this country to have Europe focus work and themes… I think, sort of seeing in Shoreditch and in London, we might feel that we’re all very European, but actually, in terms of the arts, we are, I think, generally, a pretty country, when it comes to artistic consumption. But also in terms of just cultural understanding and any kind of understanding. There’s a story in the news today about foreign language teaching going so rapidly down. In our work, particularly thinking about refugees, this is even more important because when this country talks about refugee crisis in this country, you know, thinks about… they know the number of refugees that come to this country… in recent years is very very small, in comparison to lots of countries in the world, and in comparison to Europe… in comparison to Sweden, obviously, and to Germany, so for us, having these connections to these countries, and we do have a lot of connections with Sweden and countries in Europe, it’s important and there’s a feeling, I think, of people arriving, as we’ve heard, that’s an ongoing process, including now. People have a very different experience of Europe. I think, to some extent, what’s happened the last 5 years has invited a re-definition of Europe. But this journey, as well as the experience… this is not a brand new thing, but the scale has been increased. I think, obviously in terms of social policy, that’s very very significant; culturally, it’s an incredibly exciting opportunity that don’t want to be flipping about, thinking about, when there’s so many urgent needs that people are facing, but obviously also know that culture is always an urgent need.

But that’s actually a fantastic opportunity. And from our point of view, here in the UK, we don’t want to miss out on the fantastic work that’s going be happening, artistically, in countries like Sweden and Germany. And the other thing that we’ve been thinking about a lot is how can we take these conversations to wider audiences. So we have to strand our work, now particularly focused on pop culture, kind of coming out of an American initiative, in a way, called the pop culture, collaborative… So again, thinking about a London perspective, you can get a bit lulled into thinking what this country is like by the people you know and the places you go in London. We do lots of work around the country but also thinking about how do you reach those audiences… there’s very clear that films like this could play to very wide audiences and make such a brilliantly powerful message in a way that it’s left for the audience to really register themselves and kind of own their understanding of.

J: So I have so many great ideas to come back to with our guest. I wanted to pick up on some of the things that Tom is saying. One of them- how is the… do you think that the refugee crisis and this growing awareness of so many people moving to Europe for new opportunities and life. Does this get affected on how films are received in Sweden?

B: Yes and no… because also the refugees are kind of new, it will take time for them to come into this society, and understand where they are, what’s happening… you know… maybe they are still in the survival mode, so I will say no. But it has changed me. And the third film you will see, is actually… I wrote it during the crisis, because I felt that I must share a perspective, so bit will change something in the society but I don’t know if I see it now. But also in Sweden we do a lot to integrate and use people’s skills- that’s also a new thing, they didn’t do it in my time or with my parents-

J: So, say a little bit more about using people’s skills, in what way-

B: What I feel is that there’s more institutions opening up for refugees to come with their skills, with their music, with their poetry, with their perspectives. It’s much more welcoming now, so they don’t need to assimilate themselves like we did, you know… So in a way-

H: And I also think there’s now a difference between-

I, I… my family came as immigrants. They were excited, I was excited about the opportunities this country was giving us. I feel, a lot of confusion happens when it comes to refugees, quite a lot of them don’t… a lot of them would rather be home, you know. And they’re here, kind of… I don’t feel like I needed much of welcome. My mum could just throw me on the bus, because it was just like new land! This is excellent, you know. Whereas I think when someone’s been unplugged violently from everything they knew and they didn’t want to be unplugged, they need more care to kind of… from us, as a society, to bring them in and to kind of make them feel comfortable. Hell, I didn’t care, I was just running around like- woo, this world is amazing! Don’t feel like this is the same experience-

I have a lot of friends through Thousand and One Nights, actors who came from the Arab world… some Syrian actors, Egyptians actors… one in particular springs to mind, who came… he, he struggled… he was stranded here while we did our play and he was so lost, you know… you could go back to his country and he was here and he was this amazing actor but he was very angry. But it took him a long time to find his place and to feel wanted and his skills as an actor and as an artist, and as a poet were appreciated before he could start finding his feet. And that’s a different experience to being an immigrant, I think.

J: I think that’s… I’d love to come back to that, and I’m sure that there are more questions to come. I wanted to throw a couple of more things in before I bring an audience and see more films.

One of the reasons why I was so interested in working and bringing your work and you both this evening was a conversation that I had with my Swedish friends about this sense that it is culturally unacceptable to talk about difference in Sweden. You can’t really ask someone where they’re from or what religion they are, or perhaps even what their sexuality is, and so much of what we saw this evening in your films really speaks to that, and I wondered if you can, kind of unpack a little bit more for us, because I think we are certainly silencers in our society, and we certainly find it difficult to talk about things, and I think racism is definitely one of them. But we wouldn’t… I think it’s quite an unusual situation in Sweden to not be able to ask someone where they’re from.

N: No, but I think, because you have the whole history with going to Africa… in Sweden we don’t have that kind of history, we do but we haven’t spoken about it at all. So speaking about… Swedish people don’t like to talk about racism, because they don’t think they are racist. And because we are so few in the cultural debate, that are of colour, we kind of feel always attacked. Like, everywhere we go- oh, where are you from… Because there’s no diversity. If we were many more, I think it wouldn’t be that sensitive. So it’s kind of… it’s coming from also, from people of colour or from people of other backgrounds that we feel like- hey, I’m Swedish, it’s enough, you don’t have to go back back back to my background, you know? But also, it’s starting to open up and it’s also… it’s, how do you say? It’s doubled…

J: It’s a double-edged sword? It’s good and bad?

N: Yeah, it’s good and bad. And it’s two ways. It’s like, you want to talk about it and they don’t want to talk about it, and then it gets just… I don’t know. We get lost. And people are very afraid to kind of say the wrong thing… The debate is very-

J: Well, the Turk Shop being perfect-

N: Yeah, yeah, it’s very sensitive.

J: And it’s that something… so you deliberately went out of your way and Bahar to address these issues using your films?

B: I just wanted to show it, I just didn’t want anything I just wanted to show what I see in the society. But I understand that it’s hard to talk about it, I understand it, but also, Nana talks about our business, but I think the diversity it’s about all the country. Everyone must… all the time it’s like a Swedish person asks you 0r my sister that is not in the business, “Where are you from?” And also, you must always talk about the revolution in Iran and my parents’ revolution and you know, it becomes your identity after a while. And it’s the new generation that wants to say, we are Swedish or we are not Swedish, stop asking us questions… we don’t know what year the revolution started or whatever it can be, you know?

So I think it’s about that we don’t have a diversity to also be able to see each other as non-immigrants and immigrants so it goes back to the stereotypes and everything becomes Moment 22. You want someone from people of colour in a role or something, but at the same time, I think this can be racist because this girl will be raped in the film… but she’s black and you’re starting the… you recognize so much that this will be Moment 22.

J: How has the response been to the films? Do you have these conversations-

B: Yes, yes, I have… and the responses are very big and people are recognizing themselves very much and they appreciate that the films are not… that they are kind, not pushing and saying “you are the one that is racist or you… white people”… They appreciate it a lot and they can recognize themselves and go home and think. So kind of, it’s also what I want to show, to do with a sense of humour, comedy, and not say this is this or this. And also in a way, in Ghetto Swedish, she gets paid and she’s an actress. Maybe she can do that, what’s the problem. You see that it will be complex all the time, and also the Turk Shop, it was really really hard for me to edit… I edited for 6 months, almost like a future film, because because I couldn’t find a way to make the main character become sympathetic, because someone asked me- but of course, she’s very rude to come and who does she think she is, to come to a conversation and think that she has the right to- And I was like, yes it’s true… and whose film is it? Is it the right girls’ film perspective or is it hers? You know? So there is… it’s very hard to show them in a balanced way that everyone can understand and everyone can recognize and people don’t get offended and can take it with them, so…

J: So, so… I started to talk to Houda earlier in the week in preparation of this evening’s event and we were talking about coming out, really, in different ways, as part of the process, and smothering our identity, and really what you both were talking about- about being Swedish, about being British. And Houda said that the is timing was phenomenal, because this is the week that first Arab actor has won an Oscar ever. And I was wondering, I think I should ask Houda to introduce the story, because the timing of the Academy Awards and our event is just so perfect. Do you want to talk a little bit about it?

H: So I’d always struggled when people asked me where I’m from. I’m just like, I’m half Egyptian, half Moroccan, but also French… really confusing… Children are even worse, and my husband’s here- our daughter is in this school, she showed up to the American flag raising and I asked her why, and she said “I have an American accent” (laughs). And I was like, fair enough!

So there’s all of these things, so I’ve always struggled. I was talking to Josephine that, when the votes go out, when Brexit happened, I always feel really scared to voice my opinions and I still question my validity and my voice in this country. Not because anyone else is making me feel that, but I still feel that, for whatever reason. But what happened, I was watching Rami give his speech and he’s a big deal for us-

J: Just for those who missed it- Rami Malek won the best actor for playing Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody-

H: He’s actually Persian, so that’s the crazy thing, exactly. Which he can identify with, as a first generation Egyptian… he could identify with. But I’ve heard a lot of his interviews, and it’s the first time he’s won an Oscar, and he said “I am the son of immigrants”, and I was like, wow, and he said “I’m first generation American”, and he came at a similar age to us, he came I think 10-11 to America, and he made me go, ah, I can do that! I can say that! And for the first time I felt like I could say I’m British! I can stop going “I’m a little bit British”. I am, it’s a choice, he’s made a choice and it was clear, and he cleaned it, and home is where you decide is home as long as you feel. And with everything going on in America, for him to say that, that was so powerful, to just kind of take it and claim it and claim that victory, as an Egyptian and as an American and be equal, have equal strength for those two identities of him to be in one grant brilliant actor. And I was like, yes. It gave me permission because I still ask for permission to be European, to be British. I mean now with the Brexit, it’s a whole other thing… but it did give me this permission to go, okay, thank you.

J: I think, I want to talk about Europe, and I want to talk about home, because I’d love to show you Bahar’s latest work in progress, because we’re also privileged this evening to have some fantastic actors in the audience who we’ve worked with at Dash over the last two years, who are not born in the UK and working here, and I dropped a quick note to them an hour ago and said , come this evening, and quite a few of them showed up which is really amazing and I wondered if any of them will like to share about their experiences from what we’ve heard this evening. But then there are other people that might want to ask a question or talk, so Cristina has a microphone, so please feel free to wave at Cristina and respond, reflect, ask.

B: Please don’t be shy. We travel a long way and it’s very nice to have people in another country to see our films, so please don’t be shy, there is no stupid questions, I’ve heard them all.

J: Miguel, can we have the lights up a little bit? Lights up a tiny bit, please? Thank you.

Anyone?

Cristina: Shall I start just briefly? I’m Romanian, German… God knows how much British but I’m… I think I assimilated pretty quickly, but then it was really unusual because people wouldn’t marry my background with my accent or my way of being, and similarly, I migrated to Germany when I was 16 and then I came here to study when I was 19 and every time I, you know, maybe shed away another layer of migrantness and you know, in Germany I had those experiences where I would be told by my German teacher, you need to look in a book for auslender, for people outside this land to improve your German. And, you know, being looked at funny if I went into a shop to buy something because they thought I might be stealing, but then I came to Britain and I was finding Brits much more relaxed with their racism and at first they just thought of orphans and footballers-

J: No prostitutes?

C: Well, no, because it was 1996 when I came so there was nothing much about Romania, and then I finished drama school and I was told by my voice teacher who was German actually, that I’ll probably never work because I had an accent. And then straight away I started booking the bell in all those lovely awful soaps that I’m grateful to actually. But it was, you know, all the characters that you would expect you would play of your denominations. So I played everything from prostitutes and legal immigrants, and then 5-10 years later, I was playing prostitutes and legal immigrants who have now become doctors (laughs)… Yeah, so it’s… I’m just incredibly grateful to you and just moved, really moved to hear… to have this sorority and you know, you’re women as well and have the same stories and I can’t say how powerful it is to hear your voice and your experience being given some sort of… yeah, yeah… So, with that, I’m hoping, you know now you will make a better contribution so just put your hand up and say something.

[audience applauds]

J: Anyone would like to follow the wonderful Cristina?

B: I mean, you can ask anything about the films or a scene or whatever. Private questions are also okay

[audience laughs)

[Audience member 1 R]: Good evening, my name is Remi, I’m coming from France. Private questions you said.

[audience laughs]

B: Yes

R: Now more seriously, on your two movies, what I’ve seen is what I’m seeing in every day’s life, at the office, and so call me a pessimistic but I don’t think that you can make people change. But maybe by using humour, like you do, you can, but earlier you said that they were reacting in a way that they were grateful because it was not too harsh, but as I really understand the way they are behaving, immigrants or people with other roots, after seeing these movies, do you really think that it’s going to make a change?

B: They say they do! I don’t know [laughs]

I received some letters from people who said, oh my God, I recognized myself and I’m ashamed so I think maybe they do. The only thing I can say it’s that, of course I cannot… For me, it’s enough to change one person’s perspective, because that person can change another person’s perspective and that I think I did, so I think it’s enough for me. But, also I struggle with myself, because I think they are so cute, these films. Inside me, I just want to do a punch in the face film, but I’m not there. Maybe in the future.

H: I have to say that your films… there’s been one incident… there’s been many but there’s one incident in my life, the trueness of the kind of… I think it’s easy to deal with frontal racism, when someone comes at you with something, it’s easy to deal with them. But it’s when they really try to be polite about it and that’s when- my husband is here- we were buying the house and we met a really lovely couple, really nice, and they were trying to be helpful and tell us that the area is really nice, and then the man said to us “And there’s a restaurant around the corner, and I think“- a really long pause- “that people of your disposition like it” (all laugh). And me and my husband left, we needed to find what it is and it was a Lebanese restaurant, we had no idea. But it was like, it was like… is it Indian, what is it, what is it going to be?

And I know that he didn’t mean it maliciously but until we’ll stop having these conversations, there is racism. You know, we are other, we’ll be other. And you can deal with it in an angry way, or you can deal with it with going, just doing what art does best, hold the mirror up to society and say: here it is.

J: I was going to… that’s a beautiful response. And I was going to ask Tom something similar to- I didn’t catch your name…

R: Remi

J: -Remi’s question.

Do you feel like things slowly slowly are changing?

T: Will be tough not to hold on to that hope, because you see it on an individual level… it’s obviously hard because you’re in your own perspective, so you can see good things happening and feel it’s pervasive. The things that are definitely true is that, in terms of art, that is growing in this country and there is fantastic work all around the country, of all kinds, and all communities. There is a huge amount of people from all backgrounds who do not get the opportunity to engage in the arts so it’s just dwarfed by these issues, schools everywhere… But let’s just deal with what we can deal with, and there’s no doubt that anyone who’s had that experience, you can see that the arts is a way of making this change. I think what’s interesting, and going back to Cristina’s point, and there’s a lot of things that have been talked about, is how you can also… where these kind of leverages can come in, make a bigger social impact… And I think there was a… you can’t really predict those, always. What’s the thing? And if you’re working in the kind of cultural sphere, you just sort of hoping and trying to do good and relevant work that it’s helping and building the ground base to help make these changes. I think most people would feel that younger people are much more open, much more… you know, so there’s a lot of hope in that.

And one thing that’s been interesting… so we have two co-directors, Almie and Onia. Almie is from former Yugoslavia and he’s been saying recently about how rare it is to hear someone for whom English is not the first language, speaking on TV or the radio, and I pointed out that there is one exception, and that’s football managers. Where it’s quite rare to hear someone for whom English is a first language-

B: Because we have people of colour in Sweden, but still their Swedish is perfect.

T: Yeah… Still, it’s a strange barrier, in this country… so many people in this country… English is not their first language, I mean they have an accent, they’ve almost been here 20 years… You hear someone saying “oh your English is very good”. That’s a very strange comment.

But you don’t hear that very much… it’s an interesting area, isn’t it? When there’s a news reader who wasn’t born in this country, who has an accent, that will actually be quite a significant moment… and it will be one of those moments- yeah, I recognize myself in that. There are these moments in terms of people from different backgrounds, but there are lots of these areas… And I think, you know, if you really dig dip for optimism, then maybe there is this discussion about Europe, this discussion about Europe that we’re having in this country might yield some positive things of thinking about, as your program is doing. What are our connections to Europe, what are we thinking about, you know, where can we find those commonalities?

J: So… anymore questions? Yes, there’s one over there.

[Audience member 2]: It’s just really a comment, a reflection really.

Just coming back to Houda- you were saying about embracing your British and sort of being giving permission to say that you’re British. I was raised in Canada but born in Poland so of course, Canadians are a country of immigrants, and it’d be hard not to be asked where are you from. You know, several generations down, maybe people call themselves Canadians, but mostly they’re asked where are you from and they say, you know, where you’ve come from. And I’ve always been Polish, when I lived in Canada, you know. Always asked, where are you from. Oh, I’m Polish. And it wasn’t until, funnily enough, I moved to Britain that I’ve become Canadian and I’ve really embraced that. My accent comes out and now I say, well I’m Canadian, I was born in Poland but I’m Canadian. And it’s just really funny how that’s come about.

J: So I think it’s a beautiful introduction for us because I really want to talk about Europe, because that’s really why we’re here, in some ways. But before we talk about Europe, this idea of where is home, is something that Bahar was thinking a little bit about in her latest film and Houda was also thinking about, so where… Bahar, shall we… do you want to introduce your film, and then we see it? And then we’ll watch it and then we’ll come back and talk a little bit more about it?

B: Where is home? I don’t know.

J: Oh maybe I’ve totally missed… well, tell us about the film.

B: Yeah, the film you’re going see, it’s really work in progress and it’s going to be 27 minutes, so you’ll see 13 minutes of it that I tried to make it short, with English subtitle for you, and it’s about immigration, it’s about dreams, it’s about identity, it’s about love. Heavy stuff I tried to put in 27 minutes and I write this film… it’s really not like my two first films, it’s much more… for me, it’s a much more Iranian film… it’s much more… I wanted to do something visual, I wanted to do something like love, and immigration, and I started to write it when the huge immigration… you know, this crisis that we call, was. And I was like, oh my God… and there were so many stories, they were my stories about immigrants… immigration stories that I heard, so I wanted to put them, I was like, I must write this film because no one else can write it. And it’s not… it’s about everything in this, and it’s just very dramatic and it was very hard to make it, because it’s supposed to be in Afghanistan and shot it in Armenia and it was 40 degrees and it was very, very hard to make it. And it was a challenge for me as filmmaker, director, going to back to the Middle East and trying to film and people were like, why are you doing this film? Why not make a funny film or something?

J: Let’s see it, Bahar, and then talk about it-

B: Yes.

J: Because there is parallels with something-

B: Ah, good, okay…

J: We will see you in 30 minutes.

[film excerpt]

 

J: … of Bahar’s new film.

[whispering]

Bahar, can you tell us a little bit about the film?

B: So, the film is about the mother and Maria flying from Iran to Europe, and then she gets killed and she, the main character, Maria, will be trapped in Afghanistan, in the middle of nowhere. Because the people, they paid money to travel to Europe. They take the wrong way and they don’t care so something happens, so they are kind of mafia.

J: And what does [word in Iranian] mean?

B: [word in Iranian] means that someone’s child… the child has another identity and it’s a phenomenon used in Afghanistan for many girls to have freedom to dress like boys, until they are teenagers, and then they stop. And I thought it was so interesting with that phenomenon because I think it will be a new generation of girls growing up like… and whole society knows it and no one talks about it. And they just accept it and girls come there and ask, are you [word in Iranian], and they say no. And in the beginning we hear that the mother says “we must cut your hair because this is dangerous for you to be”, and she’s just a teenager, and she dresses like a teenager and it will become… this is like coming of age, and finding her sexuality, and she’s like, am I gay?, because they kind of started last story, and he’s in the ISIS, and she will understand, and there is a lot of drama. So, I don’t know which one I should tell about, because it’s not a film about the phenomenon [word in Iranian], it’s a film about to fall in love in the wrong place, actually it’s what the film is about.

J: And is this the first time that you’ve made a film that kind of explores this sort of, I guess, this Iranian… this near East side of your identity?

B: Yes, exactly. You know, both also my side of identity and also my freedom, because I was aware of the system very early in my… when I grew up in Iran, that I saw that boys had another freedom. In Iran we don’t actually have [word in Iranian] the phenomenon, but I also wanted to be like them, I have short hair, and I couldn’t. So it has always been with me very close to change identity, you know, to fit in. For me, it was close to me.  Also in Sweden, I changed my identity all the time, to fit in different rooms. So to change identity, was very interesting to fall in love and just be totally alone in the middle of nowhere… And also a little bit the class perspective, because she’s listening a lot to music, she wants to be a singer… This we will understand later on, because the guy, he’s a survivor, he’s just working, you know, all the time, taking care of his shifts, and he doesn’t know anything about music. And she comes with the music in his life, so I wanted to also show a perspective, to be somewhere. And both of them could be immigrants. Two different experiences when they come to Europe and then-

J: So she will follow her to Europe.

B: He will not in this film, but he will help her to get to Europe and he says “I don’t care who you are, you will be my brother, always, but go and find your dreams.” So he pays a lot for her to go to Europe.

J: And do… do you feel that the respect… To use the Rami Malek idea, the validation of having made some successful films, about your Swedish identity, has it liberated you, has it enabled you to make this film about this experience of becoming European? Do you think it’s giving you the opportunity?

B: I think so, yes. But it’s me more… but yes, I kind of get the opportunity to do it, they ease the interest from the institutes… The film institute where we get our money, there is an interest to show the perspective, but it’s much more like, Nana said before, it’s a burden also. Because this is a fantasy. I mean, and maybe someone says, why don’t you show… And I get so much, like I must tell all the stories. Like all the small black girls all have Nana as a, you know, idol. And it becomes also limiting. And everyone is like, oh your therapy is also about racism? No, it’s not. It’s about love. So it’s limiting… I think I limit myself with this.

J: So there’s a lovely meet parallel with what Houda is doing at the moment, with your film that you’ve recently made about Egypt. Could you introduce us a little bit… tell us about the work.

H: So I went to Cairo for a film festival with the film that I was acting in, and I met this filmmaker, and through conversation I found out that Egypt is one of the highest countries in the world for female genital mutilation, so I didn’t know. Being half Egyptian, I was very shocked, so we created the film together, and through doing that, I also started a documentary about a huge orchestra, classical orchestra, that’s fully made up of blind women.

J: In Cairo?

H: In Cairo. Classical, they played around the world, really incredible. So we struck a deal with them to do a documentary around the world, with great people on board… So I was very excited. As an Egyptian I went to see them, they said yes, come and do documentaries. The woman is in her 80s, not very well health wise, so we wanted it to be opus, it was incredible and everything just came in very quickly. Funding came from another filmmaker called Thomas Morgan who was a very well-known documentary filmmaker and Suzan Sarandon. And the minute I came with this news, we had been working on it for about 2 weeks, they stopped answering our calls, they stopped responding to anything. The film cruise disappeared, all the support that we had in land disappeared. And they wouldn’t even tell us why, and it was so frustrating walked in there, and they said “We thought you were Egyptian”. And we said we are. My co-producer is Jordanian as well, so I said “I am. My husband is Egyptian, I am Egyptian”, and they said the money is American, we can’t do it. And that was the first time that I realized, oh my God, even positive beautiful stories in Egypt are now being censored.

And I don’t think they knew that I was doing this… I mean, the female genital mutilation that I was doing… so when that was filmed, I made a point of not being in Egypt while it happened. It was Egyptian crew… because I’m half Egyptian, so I’m not fully Egyptian, therefore it’s no longer my home. I thought it was, but in all that environment, is no longer my home. And I’m no longer trusted, as a filmmaker, as an artist, in that world anymore. Real shock to the system to me, because that was a very positive story so of course it made me film the other film, so I was like, I’m out. I will support everything, post production, everything, but I’m out. I will not act in it, I will not be in it, I will not be involved. So the film can be made.

J: So actually there aren’t so many parallels. But on the other hand, what it does do is… but in some ways, did it make you feel more that sort of sense that you’re British, did it make you realized, did it help you reassess your identity through that process?

H: Rami did that for me, but what it made me realized is I am less Egyptian in other people’s eyes than I thought. Not in mine, but in other people’s. I know that it’s not the Egyptian people, but the Egyptian people who wanted it made or scared of the foreigners involved and I was involved with the foreigners.

J: It’s interesting, because we had a brief conversation, Nana, you were talking a little but more about your father’s side and being Ghanaian. Did you identify with… Are you Egyptian, are you Swedish, are you British, are you… you know, this sense of who you are, and realizing that you were Canadian when you’ve left the country. Did you… how did your journey when discovering that you’re Ghanaian… how did that affect you?

N: I thought… I felt very Ghanaian when I grew up, and then when I was 17 I went to Ghana with my dad and then I realized I was very Swedish. So I’ve become more Swedish I think. But nowadays, I feel like I don’t have to choose. And nobody else has to define me, I can define myself. And also now when I have a daughter, with a Swedish guy, I’m a world citizen. I think there is a culture growing up so maybe you don’t have to define it. That’s what I’m kind of analyzing right now, I’m in a mix of, I can be both.

J: And what about this sense of being European? Because I’ve always had European as part of my identity. And I think that that’s been ripped from us, or removed, or voluntarily renounced. And I think there is a sense of trauma in our country, because of that sense… I think it is making us reassess whether we are global citizens. I mean, I think many of us would define ourselves as Londoners, but I think that there is something about being European that gives you the license to make this work that you couldn’t work if you were Egyptian… And I wondered if that sense of being European is something that…

H: I never thought of myself as European, I don’t know why. It doesn’t appear in my world. I mean, we have Scandinavia, we have North and then we have Europe and Sweden. So I don’t think a lot of Swedish people say that they are European. It’s not such a… I don’t know. What do you say, Swedish Embassy people?

[audience laughs]

N: You don’t go around and say “I’m European”. We’re part of EU-

J: But do you think-

Sorry, you speak.

[Audience member 3]: It’s interesting, I had this conversation with some other people a few weeks ago and we talked about a lot of British people we thought, who didn’t identify themselves as Europeans so much. It sounds very funny when British people say “I’m going to Europe for the weekend” and they take the train and they are in Europe in 2 hours, but, you know, they don’t think that this is so much Europe, they think of it as the UK. And they were laughing about Swedes thinking, without stating it I think, so I understand what you mean Nana, but I think many Swedes really find that it’s an obvious thing that we’re European. And we’re so small, we’re really proud if we win the Eurovision, you know, or if we are even second or third, because we’re such a small country, or if we win a very small skiing competition… so we’re very proud of that, so being European is making us bigger perhaps, so we like to think of ourselves in that context.

N: But we don’t say it out loud, we are a part of it.

J: But I mean, I think… I don’t know if you’re interested to know, Houda, your thoughts. I think perhaps we’re only now thinking about being European because it’s being taken from us. So suddenly, you start questioning… well, I have found myself questioning what it was or what it is that I’m losing through this process, which really is part of the reason why we’re here this evening, really. And I would be interested in your thoughts, Houda, but I’d also be interested in Tom… but I’d also be interested in whether you felt that this is part of the reason why you made the work that we’ve just seen, Bahar.

B: For me, it was about these two persons in this film, from two different privileges, and this girl… they are privileged that much that they can pay someone to come to Europe, to have a dream and everything. He doesn’t. They barely understand each other’s language, but for Europeans, they are the same. So it was kind of where I started. I wanted to show another side of refugees and then went out to a love story. But when I started it, it was from the point of view that all the refugees are not the same, or are they the same, or what happened to them when they come to Europe… what’s the European look at the refugees. Because it’s still call for refugees. And I’ll still call for immigrants. I mean, when are we-

J: That’s Houda’ point about economics migrants-

B: Exactly. I’m very interested about the audience, actually, about everything. I’d like to hear more questions.

J: But let’s throw it out… Tom, were you going to say something before we-

T: Only that I think it’s important that, whatever happens politically about Europe, that everyone has their own rights to identify where they are and also, culturally, we can choose how we behave and who we connect with. And we can’t change the history that’s already happened and where this country sits so the politics can become very compelling and overwhelming, but it’s also… that’s something that we felt, as an organization, that it was important to be more European focused, to be more about European connections. Also it has to do less with the concept about Europe and more about the neighboring countries and the places that are near that we have a lot of connection to.

H: I didn’t think… I don’t know about you, but I didn’t think of Europe until it was gone. I didn’t think that, you know, we’re British, we kind of can go to Italy and have pasta. That was my take on it. I didn’t understand the depth of it. We had freedom, but not to the degree… if anything happened, it was my awareness of what we had become really clear and what we are losing became even clearer.

But my favourite moment of when it happened was, we were in L.A and our daughter was, she was 4-5… no 6, she was 6. And we were like, oh my God, this is happening, we’re not there. I don’t know what we thought we could do, but we were like, oh God, the country is falling, and she just burst out crying, and she was crying, and I was like, “why are you crying”, and she was like, “because we do so many of us, and now there’s so little”. And it just made perfect sense, because that is what we’re mourning… Because I kind of was angry, but I didn’t know what I was angry about… I was like, oh, it’s the whole that we’re mourning. We are now the less that we’re part of. So yeah, she was very clear for us.

J: Beautiful. Anyone else with thoughts?

Yes…

[Audience member 4: inaudible]

J: But I mean, I feel very similar to you, and I feel that the work that Bahar is doing to kind of hold up that mirror to ourselves, is really essential and we need to be doing more of that in the UK, really, to be able to see from the outside, because I think, one of the wonderful things about these extraordinary actors here is that, in some way, being slightly on the outside of native Swedishness, native Britishness, that enables things to be said that might not be able to be said by other people. And I think we need more of that. We need to have the mirror held up to us in Britain more.

[Audience member 4 inaudible]

 

[Audience member 5]: Hi, my name is Pinila, and I just wanted to say, being an artist myself, and I think art is an amazing language to use and a common ground to convey these things that you’re bringing up and kind of neutral ground for people to meet and start a dialogue. I was born in Korea, I was adopted when I was 8 months old, grew up in Sweden, I was thinking what you were saying, Nana, about looking Asian on the outside and being blonde and blue eyed in the inside, kind of undercover in London.

Worked in the corporate world for 16 years, I wanted to be an artist, and came to this country in 2007 to realise my dream when I was 37 years old, and I did a BA in FineArt Painting. I’m an artist now, my first year in BA I was thinking what should I paint about or what is my subject matter, and I decided to use my background as a starting point. I’m really passionate about cultural identity, the diversity in the world which we can’t deny, using my own background as a platform to… if I can, through my art, increase… you know, break down barriers of preconceived ideas, racism, and thus increase people’s understanding of different cultures and the richness and what an art it is to have multicultural background… it’s really refreshing to see what you’re doing…

 

J: Thank you for sharing that, and good luck with your work. And was there one more, there’s a…

[Audience member 5]: I started reacting to your Olympics point because I grew up in Stratford, and I saw the change… extreme poverty, deprivation, and then you’ve got this kind of glitzy development that goes on, and I watched it on television. I moved away when the Olympics came about and the ceremony happened, and I watched from afar, through the television, and I thought, that’s not representing Stratford, at all. The communities, whatever their colours are, whatever their religions, backgrounds, they were not represented and it was a very glitzy, fun, colorful… and yeah, you could say it was a very empty… an empty dream. I don’t think it represented the people of this country, I really don’t.

J: But I wonder if it was just a-

[Audience member 5]: But I think we need to ask the question, what is Europe for us? Right? What is it? I was a school kid when we were told, there’s this thing called the EU and we will join, what do you think… I had to write an essay about it and I remember thinking, I’m a brown child, oh my God, what does it mean for me, I’m not European, I’ve just come about thinking that maybe my white friends will accept me now, so I’m at a loss but I feel sorry for this country. I really feel like we are suppressing ourselves, we don’t ask the right questions. Why we accept? Why don’t we want to reach out to one another, and I think it’s about, as you said, it’s about us. We’re not happy about ourselves in this country.

J: Beautifully put. I think there was one more question coming from… I think, to reflect on your points, I think it was probably that Olympic ceremony turns out to be an aspiration rather than a reality, doesn’t it?

[Audience member 6]: I like the point that was made, that you don’t have to choose between two different identities, and that it can be more… and it doesn’t mean that you need to divide yourself… so my question is, in this country, in Britain, there has been some debate about what being British means. I’m wondering whether in Sweden, there is a similar debate about what being Swedish means, and if so, what people in Sweden are coming up, as answers to this question.

J: Great question.

B: No, there is… I mean, it’s very complex, because we have the first generation and then we have the second generation and then we have also people that don’t feel that they are accepted in Sweden, and we have a lot of racists… so they go back to their roots, but they don’t have any roots, so we are kind of caught in between cultures. And I think to choose, to have the ability to choose, then you must be very free in yourself. You know, you must work so much with yourself for this kind of question to say, now I choose to be free, you can’t define me, you can’t define my gender, you cannot define… I will not let you define me. And I’m not there yet, I tried to get there, I have a lot of… Nana always says to me, now you are taking Iran too much in you, and I’m trapped all the time from my background, and I have a Swedish husband, and you know… so the answer to your question is, like everyone has struggled with it and it’s very sensitive because there is different experience. We don’t have the same experience, all of us. Maybe someone wants to be very Iranian, and don’t call Swedish, and it’s also okay, so there is no answer for it.

N: But we have this party in Sweden which is called The Swedish Democrats, who kind of… I don’t even know how to… it’s so sensitive to say what they are, but they kind of like…

B: Their roots are from the Nazi-

N: Yeah, their roots are from the Nazi, and they really discussing and shifting the debate in Sweden towards what is Swedish. And they have this kind of stand of how you should be to be a Swedish person, and I think 20% or 17% of the Swedish population voted for them. So they are becoming really big, and in a very short time.

B: And you’re talking- sorry to interrupt you- you’re also talking… they are talking so the debate is also ours… they are talking a lot about values, to be Swedish is about having some values, and these values are very Islamophobic values, so it becomes a huge problem for many, many people who live different cultures, different religions, because suddenly, we are like values… the freedom of bla bla… and these are Swedish values, and this is very dangerous to talk about values, so it’s another way to take the question and you know, to own the Swedishness, because the Swedishness we know, we don’t know anymore. If the meatballs are Turkish or they are Swedish. If kebab is Swedish or it’s not.

So now we talk about values, like “in Sweden we have always done like this”. So that is very very dangerous, I think. I think people are confused, and my generation and the generation after us, they are struggling with it, you know. And also race- it’s very personal. It is… it’s how you see it in the film but it’s also racist what you feel in yourself. It can be very personal, something that maybe I feel, Nana doesn’t feel, and the opposite.

J: I think… Bahar’s left us in a way that her films are so realist, we’re left on a really realist note, to think about the future. There’s more questions but we’re not going to go anywhere. We’re going to be here, put music on and be by the bar. Please buy a drink, I forgot to tell you to buy drinks.

But I want to… I think I will kind of formally close this part of the evening and then we will be able to carry on chatting and asking more questions, I hope, and talking more.

With that moment of realism, our next Café is on the 27th of March and on that date, we may or may not be Brexiting. So we thought we would focus on what it is to live on the borders, whether it’s which border… which side of the border we’re living on. And we’ve got some phenomenally interesting people, we’ve got economists and writers and artists and musicians who will be joining us to talk about living on the borders of Europe. So that’s on the 2th of March, in a month. And then we have lots more planned and some Eurovision event, slightly Eurovision inspired event… we have an event about Roma… the Oscars, the Roman cultures across Europe and lots of other stuff. So please, if you’re not on our mailing list, please send us your names. And please also, Cristina has some questionnaires that she would love you to fill in, because we would love to know your thoughts and your reflections on this evening and what else you’d like us to engage in and explore in our events.

And this leaves me to do an enormous THANK YOU to Tom, to Nana, to Houda and to Bahar for their presence, for their beautiful films and beautiful performances. Thank you so much and thank you to you all for coming.

B: Thank you to you. Thank you.

[audience applauds]

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