"Trading Organs against Passports" - The Search for Identity in Dirty Pretty Things (2002)

Seminar Paper, 2008

21 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Immigration Issues in England
2.1 A Look at the Concept of 'Diaspora'
2.2 Excursion: Legislation on Transplantation of Organs

3 Examining the Issue of Trading Organs against Passports in Dirty Pretty Things
3.1 An Introduction to Dirty Pretty Things
3.2 The Exploitation of Illegal Immigrants
3.3 Illegal Trading in Dirty Pretty Things
3.4 The Issue of Finding an Identity in the Movie
3.5 Social Implications on the Protagonists

4 Conclusion

5 Works Cited

1 Introduction

The 20th century is often referred to as the century of rising cities and of an urb­anisation of society due to factors like the Industrialisation, which had a tre­mendous influence on society. In the beginning 21st century, those developments have even gained in speed and dimension, while further impacts and consequences of this process can only vaguely be anticipated. Moreover, the term 'globalisation' can literally be found at every corner. As a result of this long-lasting trend, huge metropolises have been constructed all over the globe. They cannot only be found in Europe or America, but also on continents like Asia and Africa, as Mumbai, Tokyo, and Lagos are such mega-cities as well as Paris, New York, or Moscow. An­other metropolis is the capital of England - London - which will be in the centre of this term paper. Yet, the focus will lie more on some individuals than on the great mass of people living in such a city, as I will examine the portrayal of the main protagonists of the movie titled Dirty Pretty Things (2002), directed by Stephen Frears. I am going to analyse the movie, which must be seen just like any other lit­erary genre, with the focus on its content.

The drama Dirty Pretty Things portraits the faith of undocumented - and hence illegal - immigrants to Great Britain and their gloomy everyday-life with an ever in­secure future of being allowed to stay in their chosen residence or not. Always hid­ing and being forced to adapt to other lifestyles with different customs, traditions, or a different language - or generally speaking, another culture - their identity is put into question. Being deeply despaired and seeing no other chances for an im­proved life, some even risk to sacrifice a kidney for the opportunity of a passport, which is the main issue of Dirty Pretty Things. Can the protagonists Okwe and Senay cope with those difficult circumstances? And how does their identity develop in such an environment of exploitation and assimilation? Can they maintain their cultural roots and form a diaspora, or will they break to pieces under the immense pressure surrounding them?

2 Immigration Issues in England

These days, the world is far more interconnected and in a constant exchange of ideas and views than ever before in history. Reasons for this can be found, amongst others, in decisive and significant technological inventions (just to name the inter­net, which offers almost unlimited possibilities) and overall improvements in dip­lomacy and an increased focus on non-militant solutions for intergovernmental is­ sues. Another aspect might be the ever rising number of human beings living on our planet. Admittedly not being the most recent description, Spencer even so fittingly circumscribes the status and problems which this development is going to trigger off:

The world's current population of 5,5 billion will increase by 10% by the year 2000. Twenty-five years later, when today's primary school children reach middle age, it will be around 8,5 billion. Ninety-five per cent of that growth will be in developing countries where available resources already cannot sustain existing populations. [...]

The question is whether the people can achieve satisfactory living conditions within their own countries or whether they will choose to emigrate (Spencer 4).

Her last sentence implies one major implication of this boom in population -migra­tion. Never before did so many people alter their home and move from one region or country to another. Causes for it are multiple and would go beyond the scope of this paper. As a remedy to limit immigration and the seeking of asylum into a coun­try, a big amount of states have set up immigration laws to prevent and punish il­legal immigration. Just to clarify and define the term: the category of illegal im­migrants comprises not only persons who entered a country without permission, but also people who overstayed their visas or who entered with false documents. However, with the end of the Cold War and a closing of ranks in Europe by the European Union, a plenty of "inter-governmental agreements on a variety of migra­tion issues" were negotiated, as Randall rightly observes:

Many of [those agreements] impinge directly or indirectly on refugees. There is Schengen, [...] the Dublin Convention, [...] and the draft Convention on the Crossing of the External Borders. [...] Finally, there are strong European pressures towards the harmonisation of substantive asylum laws and procedures (Randall 203).

Another of those measures was the Asylum and Immigration Act. Being mentioned a few times by now, the role of refugees in international politics should not be un­derestimated. There exist exact definitions of what a refugee is. According to Spen­cer, those are individuals who "have a well-founded fear of persecution on the grounds of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion" (Spencer 2). Fleeing to another country and seeking for asylum, they have a special status, which varies from state to state. For England and the United Kingdom, this means that they are not allowed to return refugees to the country where there awaits them persecution, as those nations have signed the United Nations' Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

And this leads to the case of the British way of dealing with immigrants and refugees. Great Britain with its gigantic and wide-spread Empire was a world power for a very long period in time, which at its peak embraced more than one third of the world's population, and must still nowadays be judged as one of Europe's lead­ing nations, both politically and economically. As a matter of fact, power and wealth always attracts people. In consequence, masses of immigrants settled in the UK in the last decades and centuries. Yet, "the United Kingdom has throughout its history experienced gains and losses through migration" (Ford 50). Many of the incoming migrants, especially before the end of the 20th century, lived formerly in British colonies or later on in parts of the British Commonwealth. They filled a gap in the English labour market for unskilled jobs. Nowadays, this proportion has changed slightly and a great amount of immigrants (particularly in larger cities) do not ne­cessarily come from those areas in the world but from anywhere else, for example from other European states (cf. Amine 73). A major reason for it is the Common­wealth Immigrants Act from 1962, which stopped the unrestricted migration from those Commonwealth countries. Ten years later, the Act was even tightened and only persons with valid work permits or close ancestors there could gain entry to the UK. Yet, the impact of Commonwealth immigration is noticeable up till the present day: "As Britain invited Commonwealth immigration, it nevertheless con­structed blackness and Britishness as inherently exclusive," as Laila Amine writes (Amine 75). Another decisive factor for immigration can surely be found in the politics towards that topic. This can have long-ranging effects as Spencer main­tains:

The number and kinds of immigrants reflect not only migration pressures but the state's policy on entry and settlement. The immigration policy which is adopted re­flects the state's perception of itself and, in particular, the extent to which it accepts or rejects a multi-cultural identity (Spencer 8).

To demonstrate the immense influence of immigration, I want to refer to a news­paper article by Bruno Waterfield. According to him, experts of the European Union's statistics office made the projection that Great Britain will become the most populous country in Europe by 2060 because of the high numbers of immigration as well as an increasing birth rate among mothers of non-British origin (cf. Waterfield).

To switch the perspective, the most important matters for migrants to move to a certain country have to be regarded as well. For the United Kingdom as a target country, eminently the issues of temporary labour, asylum-seeking, and settlement are of significance (cf. Ford 44). The scholar Spencer criticises the UK's incoherent policy in the case of refugees: "Government policy on asylum seekers is similarly reactive. Moreover, the UK has [...] no coordinated policy which addresses the cause of refugee flows as well as the symptomatic arrival of asylum seekers at our border" (Spencer 3). While immigration from other states is restricted by govern­mental laws, citizens of member states of the European Union are allowed to travel freely between the EU because of the European Union's Four Freedoms, both as tourists and as permanent residents. Since there are no limitations to Eastern European immigration, huge numbers of persons from countries like Poland and the Ukraine have settled on the British Isles. That is why, British politicians are mo­mentarily working on a new immigration system.

Since the movie Dirty Pretty Things is set in London, it is also appropriate to take a closer look at the socio-geographic and demographic situation in England's capital. Emrys Jones gives a perfect overview of the city's progression:

A persistent characteristic of the metropolitan city throughout history has been a marked degree of racial and ethnic heterogeneity. Until recently, great cities have depended for their growth on attracting population from elsewhere. [...] In London, the extent of this heterogeneity throughout most of its history was surprisingly in­significant. [...] On the whole, London in the twentieth century settled for a general impression of an overwhelmingly white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant, English-speaking and culturally homogeneous society. [...] In the second half of the century this image of homogeneity changed rapidly and radically. [...] Significant changes came in the 1960s with a dramatic increase of West Indian migrants (Jones 176f).

In addition, Jones explains that those immigrants at the end of the 20th century rather maintained their own cultural origins than assimilating to British culture. He speaks of a "continued diversity" (ibid. 190), which can be found in the different shapings of London's districts, for instance neighbourhoods predominantly pop­ulated by Pakistanis or people from the Caribbean. McLeod even speaks of "a new London community" and delivers the example of Brixton, where "a vibrant transcul- tural site of exchange [appears]: of voices, memories, musics, rhythms, ideas, and politics, where new communities have been created from its transnational human traffic" (McLeod 1f). Resulting from such developments in certain parts of London, John McLeod draws a formidable conclusion:

Since the end of the Second World War, the urban and human geography of London has been irreversibly altered as a consequence of patterns of migration from coun­tries with a history of colonialism, so that today a number of London's neighbour­hoods are known primarily in terms of the 'overseas' populations they have nurtured.

[...] [All this led to] the transition from London as 'imperial metropolis' to a globalized and transcultural 'world city' (McLeod 2-7).

Consequences like an evolving ethnic pluralism and a heterogeneity in culture are referred to many times as positive attributes of immigration and globalisation (cf. Jones 189). On the other hand, many immigrants also maintain their social and cul­tural roots and form homogeneous groups that segregate themselves from the pre­dominating culture. These groups are called diasporas.

2.1 A Look at the Concept of 'Diaspora'

First and foremost, the question has to be raised what a 'diaspora' actually is? Safran defines the term with the help of six striking qualities:

[Diasporas are] expatriate minority communities (1) that are dispersed from an ori­ginal centre to at least two peripheral places; (2) that maintain a memory, vision, or myth about their original homeland; (3) that believe they are not - and perhaps can­not be - fully accepted by their host country; (4) that see the ancestral home as a place of eventual return, when the time is right; (5) that are committed to the main­tenance or restoration of this homeland; and (6) of which the group's consciousness and solidarity are importantly defined by this continuing relationship with the home­land (Safran 83f).

For a better understanding, I want to add one of Amine's ideas to that helpful definition: "Diaspora, however, is not a place, and even transnational experiences are grounded in the nation-states individual habits, or pass through" (Amine 80). So, it is not easy to grasp a diaspora and to exactly limit its borders in many cases. Logically, the diasporic experience can be perceived as either good or bad. James Clifford states: "It is constituted negatively by experiences of discrimination and ex­clusion. [...] Diaspora consciousness is produced positively through identification with world historical cultural/political forces" (Clifford 311f).

With phenomena like diasporas increasingly appearing all over the globe, tra­ditional notions and perspectives towards nation states and cultural identity have to be altered. Today's societies are much more mixed up than in former times and re­semble concepts like the one of the Salad Bowl in a plenty of regions. Therefore, I disagree with what Amine suggests: "A country or nation is often assumed to represent people of common origin or ethnicity," (Amine 72) as this is hardly pos­sible any more. And this is valid not only for countries of the so-called First World. Though, also here the lines between the First and the Third World have started to diminish step by step. That is why this issue has to be discussed thoroughly and di­ligently. Here, Hall's idea that "meaning is never finished or completed" (Hall 229) comes into play. Logically, communities are not stable forever but rather organic entities. They can split into multiple groups on the one hand. On the other, smaller units can also connect and form a bigger network. Or, as Rouse puts it: "Separate places become effectively a single community through the continuing circulation of people, money, goods, and information" (Rouse 14).

History and everyday-life experience show that various cultures naturally try to differentiate from each other when they collide. Being most apparent on a very first glimpse, racial characteristics and differences are used for that reason:

To equate a whole set of cultural and social characteristics with colour may be simplistic, but in essence this has been the attitude of the majority of one people to­wards another and this forms the basis of racial prejudice. However much academics discuss the idea of 'race' as being biologically untenable, we cannot dismiss attitudes which arise from its popular interpretation (Jones 177).

This happens preferably in situations of insecurity. Barman illustrates this aspect with respect to the question of identity:

One thinks of identity whenever one is not sure of where one belongs; that is, one is not sure how to place oneself among the evident variety of behavioural styles and patterns, and how to make sure that people around would accept this placement as right and proper (Barman 2).

Directly reflecting about one's own cultural heritage might be one aspect, yet iden­tity is also not reflected consciously in many other cases. Diaspora affiliation can of course also fade away over a long period in time. That is why, Clifford points out: "This sense of connection must be strong enough to resist erasure through the nor­malizing processes of forgetting, assimilating, and distancing" (Clifford 310). There­fore, an internal battle between the 'old' and the 'new' culture takes place subcon­sciously all the time. Yet, the same scholar mentions as well that "peoples whose sense of identity is centrally defined by collective histories of displacement and vi­olent loss cannot be 'cured' by merging into a new national community" (ibid. 307). Hence, a new cultural dimension should not be perceived as a substitute for another one.

Especially the problematic assimilation of coloured people is in the spotlight of scholarly examinations, when those ideas of identity and diaspora are transferred to multicultural Great Britain (and the metropolis of London in particular). Therefore, it is a struggle of achieving 'Britishness' - what is by the way also a disputed term due to the fragmentation of Great Britain into four individual states - contra retain­ing origins. James Clifford puts forward the following idea:

And the black diaspora culture currently being articulated in postcolonial Britain is concerned to struggle for different ways to be 'British' - ways to stay and be dif­ferent, to be British and something else complexly related to Africa and the Americas, to shared histories of enslavement, racist subordination, cultural survival, hybridization, resistance, and political rebellion (Clifford 308).


Excerpt out of 21 pages


"Trading Organs against Passports" - The Search for Identity in Dirty Pretty Things (2002)
Technical University of Chemnitz  (Anglistik / Amerikanistik)
Hauptseminar: Postcolonialism in the Metropolis
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
644 KB
Dirty Pretty Things, Frears, Audrey Tautou, Identity, Diaspora, Immigration, Transplantation, Cinema, London, England, Identität, Film
Quote paper
Sebastian Oehme (Author), 2008, "Trading Organs against Passports" - The Search for Identity in Dirty Pretty Things (2002), Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/149528


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