Residents of a French housing estate get behind the camera to challenge negative stereotypes of multicultural banlieues.
Across Europe, the far right is on the rise and it has some of the continent’s most diverse communities in its crosshairs.
To the far right, these neighbourhoods are ‘no-go zones’ that challenge their notion of what it means to be European.
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To those who live in them, they are Europe. These are their stories.
For the past 30 years, whenever filmmakers have sought to depict the supposed social ills of France’s multicultural banlieues, or suburbs, they have headed to La Noue.
The sprawling housing estate is located in the city of Montreuil, on the periphery of Paris. La Noue’s mostly neat tower blocks in muted shades of grey, cream and brown have become the backdrop onto which filmmakers have projected their negative stereotypes of life in the banlieues.
Each year, three or four production crews head there, attracted by the fact that it is a safe place to film. The resulting productions are dominated by images of crime, gangs, drugs and violence – portrayals of a parallel world at odds with the rest of the country.
It’s an image that compounds a very real social stigma surrounding young banlieue inhabitants of mostly Arab and African origin – and one that residents of La Noue say bears no resemblance to their reality.
Now, youth worker Meziane Idiri, who grew up in another of the city’s housing estates, is looking to change this – by putting La Noue’s residents behind the camera and its story in their hands.
He made his first amateur short film in La Noue in 2011 and says he realised then that there was a communication problem.
“I wanted the young people to express themselves through video,” he explains. “People from the suburbs are often criticised that when they express themselves it is by burning cars or tagging walls. [But] through filmmaking you can express yourself in a better way.”
Meziane and the young inhabitants of La Noue he works with have made one film a year since. Featuring residents as actors, they are screened at the neighbourhood’s annual feast.
Now it is the turn of amateur filmmaker and La Noue resident Mahamadou.
He was inspired to make a film by the cases of Adama Traore, a young black man who died in police custody in 2016, and Theo, a young black man allegedly raped with a baton by a police officer in 2017.
He hopes his film can show both the good and bad sides of the police and his neighbourhood. But can it succeed in challenging the stereotypes depicted in so many others?
This is their story. This is Europe.