The Importance of a Black Irish Cinema

Image Credit: ALTER

Mony Aramalla evaluates the increased need for a diverse indigenous cinema by critically analysing the recently released short film You’re Not Home (2023).

Filmmakers use cinema as a means of addressing the problems of the society we live in, and can show us the horrifying parts of societies unknown to us. This is what makes films important; they have the power to show us what we don’t always see and know, and that revelation is needed to provoke a change. With this social function of film in mind, cultural representations of Black Irish in cinema are highly significant and necessary. 

Black Irish cinema refers to any films of Irish cultural origin that represent Black themes and characters. The ratio of traditional Irish films to Black Irish films is embarrassingly low in the cultural canon. Nevertheless, although Ireland has a rich migrant and diasporic social history, why is Irish cinema characterised by being ethnically White, and typically religiously Catholic or Protestant? This is what Irish cinema currently stands for and is clearly evident in the most recent acclaimed Irish films, such as An Cáilín Ciúin (2022), a story about a young White Irish girl living with a dysfunctional family, and The Banshees of Inisherin (2022), a story that takes place at the early twentieth century, of friends Padraic (Colin Farrel) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson) in the rural Irish west. The common factor here is that these stories, whilst focused on Ireland, offer an image of Ireland that is predominantly White. 

Although Ireland has a rich migrant and diasporic social history, why is Irish cinema characterised by being ethnically White, and typically religiously Catholic or Protestant? 

A different kind of Irish story is Derek Ugochukwu’s You’re Not Home (2023), a short horror film that follows two African brothers who seek asylum in Ireland and encounter a mysterious entity that threatens their stay in the country. While this film falls under the category of Irish cinema, chances are that the general public would not know about this award-winning short film. The truth is that because of their scarcity and lack of funding, these stories are not familiar to us. Inspired by the casual horror of direct provision, You’re Not Home is a perfect example of expert filmmaking being side-lined and not given the attention it deserves in Ireland due to the non-traditional and multicultural definitions of Irishness it represents. 

The refugee crisis is more topical than ever, and the attitudes of Irish citizens towards the issue have been subject to much discussion over the past couple of years. You’re Not Home shows the life of a refugee from their perspective, offering a glimpse into the lived reality of a person fighting for survival while their right for survival is protested by others. The sudden appearance of a mould in the boy’s room could be a horrific symbol of the unwelcoming nature of the Irish people, or it could reify the inner turmoil faced by the brothers who don’t feel like they belong in Ireland. Whatever meaning the viewer takes from this film, Ireland’s poor treatment of young Black asylum seekers is presented as fact. 

This is why films like You’re Not Home are important. We have seen many Irish films try to explain the socio-political history and current state of the country, but little else is as effective as the films that show the experiences of marginalised communities that are too often sidelined in film. A Black Irish cinema addresses these important issues and shows Irish people that the problem partly has its roots in their culture. The commentary made in the eleven minutes of this film is enough to make us realise that we need to be more inclusive. What then could more feature-length films teach Ireland about its own diverse people?

Black Irish films propose questions other films simply do not, and this is what makes this cinema special and significant. Irish people have an historical reputation as storytellers and it is essential we keep supporting those who want to tell their story. You’re Not Home allows Black Irish creatives to tell their complex stories. Narratively, it demonstrates that they are deserving of the power and space needed to do just that. Despite this, the film has not been given the coverage nor the mainstream status it deserves. 

The demand for Black cinema is rising around the globe and exponentially in Hollywood; can Irish cinema keep up? 

We must demand greater visibility for our Black creatives working in the industry, and you might wonder: “how can we do this?” The first step is to support their art, and I would advise starting by watching You’re Not Home. If you’re like me, you’ll watch it once, again, and then once more to see, hear, understand and evolve.