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Poverty Porn

by phung
This list is a work in progress. Filmmakers like to capture the exploited and impoverished; this allows them to give the impression that they are attuned to social issues, work with non-professional actors (i.e. cheap labor), challenge the escapist nature of mainstream Hollywood (what’s more real than gritty, primitive poverty?) and it satisfies their audiences’ liberal sensibilities to commit a few hours to observing life in the underdeveloped world. The films called “poverty porn” are so because the presence of an affluent gaze is there to transmit images of slums and ghettos in order to excite disgust and sadness in the audiences. No… Read more

This list is a work in progress.

Filmmakers like to capture the exploited and impoverished; this allows them to give the impression that they are attuned to social issues, work with non-professional actors (i.e. cheap labor), challenge the escapist nature of mainstream Hollywood (what’s more real than gritty, primitive poverty?) and it satisfies their audiences’ liberal sensibilities to commit a few hours to observing life in the underdeveloped world.

The films called “poverty porn” are so because the presence of an affluent gaze is there to transmit images of slums and ghettos in order to excite disgust and sadness in the audiences. No matter if the purpose was originally well-intended, filming the poor exploits those who are already victims of oppression, and deals with issues of inequality, class and race in a superficial way.

I do believe that these films are well made, but rather insensitive towards their subjects. They are brilliantly crafted and deserve the attention they have received. However, doesn’t the beautiful cinematography undermine the issue of what terrible places slums are? Doesn’t the quality of romance and tragedy (absent from Slumdog, whose tidy and triumphant conclusion betrays any political message there may have been) in these films give a false sense of dignified suffering to living in squalor? These films are successful in acieving the intended affect, which is usually emotional devastation (with the exception of Slumdog), but what about affecting some real indignation in the audiences, the kind that moves them to resolve the problems that are depicted?

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