Carousels and Chocolate Mosques. How Victim Support is using film to raise awareness and change attitudes.

 

I’ve been taking a more than usual interest in the Great British Bake off since making a film for Victim Support that addresses the terrible impact of Islamophobia on young people. 

A couple of weeks ago I, and around 14 million others, tuned in to see Nadia Hussain, an unassuming and hugely likeable mother of three, fight off her nerves and two other contestants to win the much sought after prize. But prior to her victory, Nadia was generating a great deal of media interest for other reasons too. 

Nadia had said she was worried that “perhaps people would look at me, a Muslim in a headscarf, and wonder if I could bake”. She needn’t have worried. Her show stopping triple - tiered lemon drizzle wedding cake was described by Mary Berry as “stunning…sheer perfection”. And indeed it was. A delectable, pristine testament to her Bangladeshi background and her love of British cooking. 

She had many fans. David Cameron was rooting for her: “so cool under pressure” he told reporters prior to his speech at the Conservative party conference. (By a strange coincidence the Bake Off final and the conference were happening on the same day). And more than one commentator has viewed the show as a kind of TV land metaphor for the sort of egalitarian, big society thing the Prime Minister still likes to talk about. One nation under a marquee. 

Since her victory the papers have devoted a great deal of column inches to what it all means. On the nasty side, the Sun and the Daily Mail were already sneering at an imagined PC agenda running riot at the BBC. An agenda that was presumably letting too many undesirables into the tent. Taking our jobs away. The Daily Mail ‘content provider’ Amanda Platell claimed that the chocolate carousel prepared by a white contestant was bound to fail when up against the Bake Off teams PC bias. Perhaps “if she’d made a chocolate mosque, she’d have stood a better chance”.  

And now with the final on its way, poor Amanda had to endure the presence of a ‘new man’, a ‘gay doctor’ and a ‘Muslim mum’. Presumably the icing on the cake for these playground bullies and professional hate mongers was that Nadia wears the hijab. 

This mindless resistance to any kind of positive representation for Muslims is deeply saddening as it feeds the prejudices and mindset of a great many. In London alone hate crimes against Muslims have risen by 70% in the last year. This includes anything from verbal abuse and street harassment, to vandalism, arson and physical assault. Around 60% of victims are Muslim women wearing the Hijab.

Against this backdrop of rising islamophobia the charity Victim Support recently joined forces with Faith Matters and Tell MAMA to make a film for and about young Muslims. Victim Support is an independent charity for victims of crime in England and Wales. It’s Suffering in Silence report draws attention to the fact that most victims of hate crime do not report their experience and often endure the abuse as part of everyday life. To counter this, the film would offer young Muslims, valuable insights and advice.

Why film? The client team knew that young people love to experience real life stories and watch videos about people they can identify with. Film is great at telling authentic stories that connect emotionally. For this reason alone it has an impact way beyond the printed word. If you want to raise awareness, change attitudes and make a difference film is superior to any other medium.

I was lucky enough to be asked to help out with the project. The film we made looks at Islamophobia through the candid and heartfelt contributions of nine young Muslims. Their unscripted insights are woven together and explore a number of themes that Victim Support unearthed during extensive interviews in Rotherham, Blackburn and London before the shoot. They make it clear what Islamophobia is and what it feels like to be on the receiving end of it. They also suggest ways you can cope, and what you can do to get support. This is ultimately a positive film featuring people the audience can identify with.

An important aspect of this project was communicating a real sense of the contributors’ personalities. A mix of individuals with different characters, interests and hobbies. In this way it subverts the mainstream media’s tendency to de - humanise and stereotype. Like Nadia, we recognise in them the same hopes, dreams and aspirations that we all have. In a media vacuum where Muslim voices are rarely heard here are nine young people cutting through the nonsense and the bullshit.

I hope the film does some good. It was completed before the Conservative party conference in Manchester. Cameron’s speech there addressed the need for equality of opportunity. Whatever your colour. Whatever your religion. But in the same speech he also proposed that all faith based supplementary schools - Jewish, Muslim or other – should submit themselves to inspection as a way of tackling extremism. Here Cameron painted a lurid picture of Muslim madrassa schools, where pupils have their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”. This was all that was needed to fuel the crude, anti Muslim discourse of the Sun and the Daily Mail. The Mail made sure the narrative was all about ‘Islamist extremism’ and the ‘fight for our existence’. The Suns big, bold, inescapable headline was simply ‘Madrass Kicker’.

Clearly there is more work to be done in order to promote a more inclusive and diverse society. And some sections of the press need to take a good hard look at themselves. Encouragingly H&M have just produced a commercial which features, all be it briefly, a British Muslim woman wearing a Hijab.

As we see her standing in the doorway of a trendy shop, Iggy Pop’s distinctive voice over tells us this is chic. Along with Nadia’s victory, this is the kind of thing that ultimately defeats the people who’s heads are “filled with poison”, who are scared of diversity and intolerant of different faiths and cultures. Let’s hope there’s more to come.