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Arifa Akbar: Inspired screening or patronising gesture?


I forget why, but I went through a phase of watching every film my younger brother recommended in the 1990s. He had set himself a solid track-record with Cabaret and The Rocky Horror Picture Show by the time he handed me a copy of La Haine. I thought it would follow in the same vein. Needless to say, it didn't, but I was stunned by this stylised, low-budget, black-and-white film which tracked 24 hours in the lives of three quietly-seething French immigrant youths living in a Parisian banlieue.

Mathieu Kassovitz's movie was a shocking portrayal of a day in the life of "the dispossessed". It dealt in racial hatred, police brutality and social disengagement and ended with Vincent Cassel's character being shot dead by a police officer.

Yet, as much as I still love the film's power and see its current-day relevance, it is unsettling to hear that residents of Tottenham, north London, are being invited to a free public screening of La Haine on the eve of the London mayoral elections on 3 May. It will be shown at Broadwater Farm community centre – the home of race riots in 1985 – and a stone's throw from the geographic starting point of the London riots last August.

The Other Cinema, the organisation screening the film, which is set against a live score by Asian Dub Foundation, say the Tottenham initiative is part of a wider project aimed at embedding film culture in local communities.

In principle, it sounds welcome and worthwhile, but the timing and location of this particular screening have an uneasy political edge to them. Is it intended to raise a debate on violence for the people who apparently need it most? Or is it aimed at turning the vote against Boris?

Who knows, but by staging the film in Tottenham, with all the heavy-handed, real-life resonances this contains, it ends up looking like a patronising "educative" gesture, which seems to say "look people, violence only leads to more violence", or "la haine attire la haine", to quote the film. Tottenham knows this, just as we all do.

A screening in a more neutral space would have said something entirely different.

A mix of deeply-rooted social factors led to the unrest in London, as various analyses have shown, including urban poverty, alienation and political apathy among the young. The hordes of rioters we saw ransacking supermarkets and Argos conveyor-belts were not the cause but the effect. It might have made more sense to erect a giant screen at Westminster, or outside the Mayor's office. The people in power need to see La Haine as much as people on the street. The same film will be screened in a community venue in Paris on the eve of the French presidential elections, which at least seems more culturally fitting.

It's tough being a man in a man's world

First we had a flurry of semi-comical books on how hard it is to be a man, particularly a middle-class, middle-aged one, and how best to deal with this impossible malaise by growing a garden shed of one's own. Now comes a serious-minded, academic study on sexism against men and boys. Written by a University of Cape Town academic – Professor David Benatar – it has a clever title, The Second Sexism, and has chapters lamenting "Male Disadvantage" and hailing "Affirmative Action".

Men are much more likely to be victims of violence, he argues, or lose their children in custody battles, or to be pressured into joining the military. It's true, men do bear certain burdens – they are expected to put up shelves, and sometimes even change their children's nappies after a full day at work.

But it all sounds slightly churlish, given the structural inequalities that women deal with. If Professor Benatar can point out just one country on the planet in which men and women are paid equally and have the same opportunities available to them, than I'm very prepared to take the concept of second sexism seriously.

a.akbar@independent.co.uk; twitter.com/@arifa_akbar