Movies are powerful. From them, we learn to love or unlove types of people or behavior. Movies teach us how to kiss and show us what kind of life we want to live. Movies make us witnesses of tragedies with all the benefits of someone who’s watching from a safe standpoint, so then we can empathize with their victims, exercising our ability to feel and check out if we are still humans.
Not long ago, someone posted on my twitter timeline some tweets about Titanic’s tragedy. It was some visual art stuff, telling the story of that accident hour by hour. And though the visual art was all about historical facts, we still feel so touched because we saw in a movie the characters of Jack and Rose dancing and falling in love, and then sinking down in hypnotizing scenes of a giant iceberg, flood, and a magnificent ship cracking in the middle. It made us also feel horrified on seeing the treatment given to the second class people in that ship, it also made us cry when Jack finally drowns because Rose thought there was no room for two on that wooden piece of table. And we know, watching from our safe standpoint, that there was room for two. Fuck it, Rose! I can’t believe you just stayed there like a boss!
We feel touched because these people, though they are not real, they had a face on the screen. And they had a white face. It’s easy to empathize with white people, isn’t it? Because it’s well known over the centuries that white people are humans.
On the evening of October 10th 2013, a ship with Syrian faces left Zuwarah, in northwestern Libya, and headed for Lampedusa, only to sink next day. And it would have been just one more sad tragedy, if the audio tapes showing refugees begging for help, and being coldly neglected, hadn’t been leaked this week. It would have been only one, but now that we have the tapes, there are two tragedies: death and neglecting.
Listening to the tapes is such an agony, because those people, they didn’t have the Jack and Rose looks, but they had a voice. That voice called Italy, and Italian authorities told them to go search for help with Malta, only to be told they were closer to Lampedusa: “Lampedusa is Italy?” the voice asks. “We are dying, please.”
Different from the world of films, reality is a place in which we lack and fail in being heroes. What does it take from us to do the right thing? What does it cost? I wonder. How much more emotion in a voice do we need to feel empathized? I say “we”, because how many times all of us are called to be the hero for someone else, and we decide no to?
At the age of 6, at school, I saw a scene: my older sister had a fight with an older kid. I had never seen that kind of situation in my life up to that moment. I didn’t know what to do, I had an intuition, a feeling that I should do something, that I also should go to the fight and defend my sister. But I was petrified. That memory haunted me for all of my life, that fight lasted literally 5 minutes, but it has lasted forever in my memories. Every time I am called up to an emergency, I get petrified for 5 minutes and only then I have a reaction. Everytime my sister is called up to an emergency, she’s the fucking hero at the right place at the right time.
All I am saying is that all of us have our own 5 minutes of shock, but then, after this period, we got to go focus on the solution. We can’t let our 5 minutes sum up with the 5 minutes of everyone else and the 5 minutes of our country as an institution, getting totally paralyzed for whatever reasons they put in front of people lives. We have to be the hero, we have to be the characters who will make a difference in someone else’s life. I know that people who got that call, they are not a country, they only represent one, at the end of the day, they are people like us. They weren’t born Italian authorities, they were born people like the ones on that ship.
There will be moments of petrification in our lives, in which we can process the problem and finally get to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter if Italy doesn’t want refugees, it doesn’t matter if we know them, like them, want them, there has to be a moment in which we realize that we connect to them through the very basic common truth: we are humans. It’s so easy to do it at the cinema!
Only when Malta with a white voice urged Italy to send their ship, they’ve agreed to do it and rescue the few ones still alive. But I bet they would cry if they saw the scene on the screen played by two white characters: “Lampedusa is Italy? We are dying, please.” There was room for two on that piece of table.