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National identity describes the concept of a nation having a common self determined image that closely depicts a country’s culture, politics, traditions and language. Most countries try to establish national identities that can be used to represent values that are associated with their country. To portray these images symbols books, documentaries and films are used to announce these values to their citizens and the rest of the world. A widely acceptable national image however is hard to agree on since most people have the capability of drawing their images from varied sources. Films can depict varied national image for a given country since they are made from for more purposes than depicting a national image.
Anderson (2006), “Imagined communities”, argues that national identity can only be easily understood on reflections of older administrative orders from which modern nations emerges. Thus, the older kingdoms and empires are seen as instrumental in the resulting identities that those emerging nations connect with. He also argues that nations are imagined in that there exists many factors within any given country that differentiates the members of a given nation. These inequalities that exist can be in the form of material wealth, cultural heritage, languages spoken as well as exploitations within the communities in any given country. This, therefore, implies that as much as nationalisms seem to be based upon sharing common factors, the reality is often quite different since inequality exists in all societies. Films are one of the many tools that are often used to depict the realities that exist in the society. They can, therefore, be a powerful social commentary that draws a picture of how societies interrelate. It should be noted that films can be fictitious or a true reflection of happenings in the society. Based on this, audiences often draw perceptions and identities based on depicted events that can be either from realities or fictitious storylines.
Thesis: Films as powerful tools of social commentary can lead to misconceptions about societies and play a role in confusing identity that individuals associate with their country as well as those of other countries.
A Nation or a Country can be described as a large body of individuals sharing a common territory with sufficient conscious to seek their own unique government, identity and unity. It can also be a group of people sharing a common geographical territory or groups of individuals sharing the same ethnic heritage. This simply reinforces Anderson’s argument, that to truly understand nationalism we have to examine our heritage or older political orders in order to better understand what to identify with.
Culture can help explain the social conditions, artistic creativity, political circumstances, literary heritage and musical trends among other aspects of any given nation to the rest of the world. It is this unique identity that people identify with. It is also seen as one of the differentiating factors that set one country or community apart from the rest in modern societies today. Canada comprises of an immigrant population that supersedes by far, the original native population commonly referred to as the “first nation people”. Their culture is, therefore, heavily influenced by the original cultural values of the immigrants, including those of the natives. This uniqueness, therefore, denies the country a single identity in terms of having its own culture, and instead the country’s current culture is made up of many unique cultural heritages.
In the earlier films that were mostly made in America, Canada was often depicted as a snow-capped wilderness made up of primitive natives. This distorted view has up-to-date plagued the country with challenges of agreeing on a widely acceptable national identity. The country has, therefore, had controversial debates in search of an acceptable national identity. On one hand, we have the natives who are often depicted as savages in American films and have not always been treated kindly in their own nation, while, on the other hand, we have a vast population of immigrants with roots in every corner of the world. Films are powerful social commentary tools as noted earlier, thus if misused can give generalized misconception about communities and their territories and often result in stereotyping. Canada and her people have not escaped such general misconception. We have the first nation being depicted as savages and a primitive society, while the earlier immigrants especially from the USA portrayed as tough Mounties fighting the savage natives. Add this to the forced reeducation of the native Canadians in western styled school and the pictures begins to appear real.
In Canada, the film industry is heavily dominated by the Hollywood production, since films and television production can heavily influence a country’s culture. There have been concerted efforts by the Canadian government through the National Film Board to increase Canadian productions. Domination of the film and television industry and the efforts to reduce the American influence is usually connoted to be part of the larger efforts geared toward helping Canadian’s search for a widely acceptable national identity.
As noted earlier, the Canadian population comprises of a large segment of the immigrant population. Canada was first established as a settlement colony in the 1600s by the French in Quebec. Subsequent settlers from the British colonies, Asia and Africa brought with them their original cultural identities. The country is, therefore, endowed with a rich multicultural society with origins from all corners of the world. The country is officially recognized as a multilingual country comprising of French and English speakers. However, this does not mean that these are the only two languages spoken in the country.
Historically, Canada has often been portrayed through films especially the early Hollywood productions as a country comprising of natives and western settlers who were often depicted as Mounties .In reality, however, the country has immigrants from all corners of the world, therefore, the often depicted Mounties Indians identity of Canada is thoroughly misleading. This myth has played a significant role in the country’s disputes of its identity, and it is a myth that we can argue that Canadian film makers seek to dispel by exploring the origins of other immigrants. This is clearly shown in such films as the “Incendies “by Denis Villeneuve (2010), “Ararat” Atom Egoyan (2002) and “The Necessities of Life” by Pilon Benoît (2008).
A study of more than five hundred Canadian films that were produced in Hollywood between the years 1907-1968 by Berton indentified their lack of reality in the depiction of the true ways of Canadian life. In his view, this lack of realism was partly responsible for the misconception that is held on Canadian identity up- to- date. Images of Canada depicted in these movies become the reality of what the country and the people were like, to most of the viewers including Canadians. Breton also argued that such movies played a part in the identity, because such generalizations are usually associated with Canada and its people. This, therefore, affected the identity of Canada to the rest of the world and its own citizens. Most of these films depicted the country as a snow-capped territory crawling with Mounties with many featuring wilderness images that many associate with Canada. This distorted images and many misconceptions about its citizens blurred the country’s identity not only to its nationalities but also to the rest of the world.
In his film, depicts the twins as searching for the answers to their mother’s mysterious death wish only for their quest ending up as the search for their own identity. A similar parallel can be drawn from the Hollywood depiction of Canada where Canadian audiences end up identifying with Hollywood’s distorted depiction of Canada and her people. The country is depicted as having harsh territories with intolerable weather and its’ people as primitive in nature, and the natives are often seen as daring culturally backward. The similarity is depicted in Denis Villeneuve film which portrays Turkey as a harsh country with primitive people and backward cultures. This also brings out the multicultural heritage that makes up Canada as well as helping the viewers understand the difficulties that the country encounters in search of an acceptable identity.
The 2002 film by Egoyan Ararat is a search of identity through revisiting the history of her step father, a famous painter, who captures the massacre of his people in his art work. To Celia his stepdaughter his art work is a painful reminder of the suspicion surrounding his alleged suicide which she blames an art historian for. She learns the painful history of her father’s origin which he depicts in his famous painting. Though she gets to learn about the culture, history and roots of her parents, Celia is faced with mixed feelings of her heritage and anger at his death. The famous painter Gorky gets to tell the massacre that befell his people through his art work and in a way depicts the conditions of his native country in the early 1900s and in other words, tells of his origin. His son tries to search for his identity through his father’s work and by perusing his past.
Canada is a rich country in terms of cultural diversity; the country has a whopping segment of population with divergent origin. Most of the modern immigrant population has never visited the land that their parents and grandparents originated from. Indeed, most were born in Canada and only get to learn of their heritages through family stories. This has largely contributed to the Canadian society lacking a widely acceptable national identity. In other words, their rich diversity contributes significantly to the country as a whole lacking a single acceptable national identity since a majority of its population is from different parts of the world with their own cultural heritages.
Denis Villeneuve 2010 film “Incendies” is a social commentary on the dark history of an immigrant woman. Upon her death, Nawal left her twin children with tasks that she wanted them to complete as part of her will. The daughter Jeanne was to deliver a letter to her unknown father, whilst the son Simon was to take a letter to an unknown brother and after making their delivery they would get an enclosed letter of their own. The unusual wishes of their mother would take them on a journey of their mother’s dark history revealing their true roots and cultural heritage. Jeanne was intrigued by the mystery of their mother’s last wishes and, therefore, interested in finding her origins. While her brother wanted to bury their mother and forget her past. The implication here is that he was comfortable with who he was without finding out where he came from. Due to his sisters reluctant to follow to embark on the quest alone, he agrees to carry out his mother’s wishes. In their journey, they are faced with problems of finding the recipients of their letters without first learning their history. They are, therefore, forced to learn the history of their roots by taking a journey into their mothers past and the dark history of her native country.
This film seems to support the notion by Anderson that for one to understand one’s or a nation’s identity first, one must learn his roots or that of the nation. Therefore, for the two twins of a Canadian immigrant, to understand who they are, they must learn the history of their mother and her roots. This would also help them as well as the viewers understand the rich multicultural heritage of their country Canada. Through the eyes of the two twins, we are able to understand that there are many Canadians like them including the natives who have roots that are darkened by events in their past or history of their origin.
Pilon Benoît 2008 also draws his audiences to the same conclusion in his film “The Necessities of Life”. This film is a testament of the Canadian multicultural diversity and the country’s challenges with its identity. Based on a real Tuberculosis epidemic occurrence in the 1950s the film explores the difficulties of misconceptions and misunderstandings of the country’s divergent cultural heritages. The Tuberculosis epidemic forces the native Canadians from the far north to seek medical attention in different cities of their country. In these cities, they encounter several barriers that prevent them from easily accessing the medical care required. These barriers include linguistic barriers, as well as, culture shock.
Through the experiences of several characters, Pilon Benoît brings to his audiences the cultural diversity that makes Canada a rich multicultural society. He also shows his audiences how healing it is, by accepting these divergent cultures and by trying to understand them. Through the experiences of the character Tiivii, who is taken to a far away city from his home for medical attention and is threatened, not by the disease that has taken him to hospital, but by lack of anyone who can understand him. He eventually meets an orphan with experience in own his culture and that of Tiivii. They are, therefore, able to communicate in Tiivii’s native language and thus, his healing process begins.
In conclusion a national image can be useful in uniting a country and should therefore be a true representative of the communities, and values in a given. Canada has had challenges up to date of having a commonly agreeable national identity. The confusing national images that are often used to depict Canada occur within and without its borders. Films are powerful tools of social commentary that .They also can lead to misconceptions about societies and play a role in confusing identity that individuals associate with their country as well as those of other countries. Canada has been a victim of image misconception as varied images that far differ from the realities have often been portrayed by the film industry.