Slums, Ghettos, Favelas in Contemporary World Cinema: Three Explanatory Frameworks
The increase of the global slum population is simultaneously accompanied by an increasing number of films from around the globe portraying the lives of slum inhabitants, so it seems. Cidade de Deus (2002) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008) are the best known examples of what could be less accurately described as a newly evolving film genre, but rather as a phenomenon of contemporary world cinema.
To name a few recent examples from each continent: Tirador (2007) is set in a slum called Quiapo in Manila; Ajami (2009) explores five different stories in a slum of the same name in the Israeli port city of Jaffa; Sin Nombre (2009) tells the story of gang members in a slum of the city Tapachula, Mexico; Gomorrah (2008) is a film about the Mafia, mostly set in Scampia, a ghetto-like suburb in Naples.
Nevertheless, slums, ghettos and favelas have been settings of films since the early silent era in film history. Stylistically speaking, the film history of the representation of slums was usually bound to certain modes of realism, may it be a documentary-like cinema verité-style or other realistic modes of representation. The new global “slum-film” could perhaps therefore be described as a trend in a worldwide film-historical cycle of recurring realisms. But in a philosophical sense, this phenomenon could also be explained with what Slavoj Žižek described as “the return of the real” within an increasingly virtual environment of digital images and cyber-realities.
In my presentation I want to explore three explanatory frameworks for the new cultural phenomenon of the global slum-film: 1) sociological: as a reflection on the global problem of the increasing slum population; 2) film-historical: as a recurring cycle of realisms in world cinema; 3) philosophical: as part of “the return of the real” in a visual culture of increasing virtuality.
Keywords: Slums, World Cinema, Realism
PhD Student, Graduate Program "Formations of the Global"