“Home Away From Home” is a bittersweet film about an African mother of four trapped in a suburban house that longs for her native homeland, so she builds a hut. Those who do not accept the African culture then destroy this hut. This causes the family that were growing apart to grow stronger and work together as a team to fight for who they are. Towards the end, sunflowers are planted. This signifies that there is a success. Everything’s blooming, and Africa has grown in the garden. Miriam, the mother, works in Heathrow Airport, quite close to where she and the family live. The ‘constant passage of aircrafts’ heard, seems to only remind Miriam of just how far away she is from her rural family roots back in Africa. Miriam wants her children to know about the African culture, especially her eldest, Fumi with whom Miriam seems “constantly at odds”.
This film uses minimal dialogue but uses natural sounds to tell the story. There are several messages given out in this film. Firstly, I don’t think that Maureen Blackwood, the director, made this film to show racism, but to show that a person has a right to be different as life would be dull and boring if everyone was the same. The neighbourhood that Miriam lived in was surrounded by “whites” that obviously didn’t believe in accepting a different culture in their very traditional, English area. It shows that people aren’t aware of the changes that have happened to the cultural population now living in Britain. Everyone has a right to be different with equal rights. No one should be judged because of the way they dress, act or live.
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Secondly, it’s showing that after coming to England, Miriam still believes that Africa is her home and nothing could have changed that. Anyone can carry their home in their heart no matter where they are. Even when people from Somalia, Kenya or Afghanistan are not really accepted, this film could show the ethnic minorities that they’re not the only people feeling lonely and isolated in a foreign country. This film can also acknowledge the minorities and the British the importance of respect towards cultures and identities, from the way Miriam and her family feel when they are treated with such disrespect. Finally, this film is about standing up for your rights and who you are. You shouldn’t stop believing in who you are just because of where you live. Compromise and decide what to do, but not for the sake of the discriminators. Only for yourself.
The film shows that you should do something that brings peace with those that surround you, but also fulfil your beliefs. Your rights and culture are all important and foreigners are always going to be in England and they’re not going to run away. At the end of the film, Miriam and her family planted sunflowers that bloomed, showing that they are surviving. In order for these messages to be given out, certain techniques, sounds, colours, shapes and textures are needed. The colours used are there for a reason. Everything is thought about to give a certain affect. The opening of the film is very important. It starts with a black background and white bold text in the centre of the screen. It also seems traditional and people say that the truth is written in black and white. The colours are also in contrast with each other as the black shows sadness, as it may be symbolic of someone in mourning. When seeing the film you realize that the black and white colours used, show a race issue as the white neighbours showed are against the black family. The title then shows up in a fiery, blazing reddish-orange colour.
This can also mean that as Africans use rich warm colours like oranges, reds and browns on their garments, the dark background seems to make the colours stand out. Furthermore, it represents Africa being much more superior than the usual dark English colours as it’s on top of the black. As you move into the opening of the film, the airport is shown with a polluted look, which shows Britain as a ‘grey island’ with grey and dull weather. In the canteen there were whites and a group of African people huddled together, giving a visual image that Miriam is isolated and feels left out as she is sitting by herself. There were three African women dressed traditionally, but that didn’t change anything as yet again she was the odd one out because she wasn’t dressed according to her culture, but dressed in British clothing.
The present that was given to Fumi from her mother was nicely embroidered with beautiful rich colours, which was a complete contrast to the usual black and white clothes worn by Fumi. They are also very simple colours that are not expected from an African girl. There’s a major difference between how she dresses and the way Africans dress. Maureen Blackwood may want to show that Fumi is leading her life more like a westerner. The colours on the cake are bright and so in contrast with the room, as the colours in the room are dull and because of the cake, the air is smoky. It shows that Fumi may feel constrained to her original culture. When Miriam is walking home, we see that her coat is an insipid colour. Even if Miriam was wearing a uniform, the coat could have been a little more colourful, like her traditional garments. This can show that she may be fed up with living like someone that is not accepted in her community, and so dresses more like those that surround her.
The hut is made with very warm, earthy colours, which is a huge comparison with the colours of the houses enclosing Miriam’s hut. Her neighbourhood is built with normal, cold-coloured bricks and not with warm indulging colours. The earthy colours represent the African landscape and when it was being made, the light that was reflected was from the sun. There is a natural link with Africa because the weather seen looks dry and hot. The graffiti was sprayed with red paint. The red could represent blood and hatred towards the family and when the hut was vandalized, the colours shown were blue and grey with cold light added. There was no warmth shown and this was probably to show the contrast between this and the colours of the hut. The blue is also used to show the heartlessness of the neighbours.
Another important way of making a film more meaningful is the texture and shapes used. In the opening of ‘Home Away from Home’, there are hard and cold textures especially when the concrete is shown. This may be because Maureen Blackwood is setting the exact opposite impression of what you would expect to see in Africa, such as sand. Secondly, the hut was shaped circular and usually, the roundness of objects shows soft shapes that are very safe and homely, which is what Miriam feels like in her hut. She feels at ease and at peace with herself. This shape is also in contrast to sharp-edged shapes like rectangles or squares. The aeroplanes that block her from returning home have straight edges with sharp ventricles, and the cereal bowl that broke showed that her safe environment was about to be destroyed, as it resulted in sharp, dangerous pieces. It’s all symbolic and it happened when two or three of the children were rampaging around the house at a time of uncertainty and tension.
Suddenly in the middle of the eleven-minute film, many square objects were seen. The records that probably played African music and the picture frames were all squared which gave an impression that the people in the photographs are trapped. The record cases seemed to be hiding the roundness of the records, and the painted picture of the red house was also square, showing that the African house was out of bounds, as Miriam is not in Africa. Her house is angular as well. The windows, cupboards and worktops are all straight-edged. This shows that her house is westernized. The neighbours are also all angular. The first one shown has straight black sunglasses looking over a sharp spiky fence with a sharp, flat greenhouse in the background. All of these shapes suggest conflicts. When the family is gathered together, Fumi starts to listen to her walkman, and when the music starts to play it disrupts the families’ silence, and again the walkman was square.
The sunflowers shown at the end of the film are big, bright and bold which shows triumph. They are round and spread their scents out, and attract bees, which help them to survive. It’s helping the family survive through their ups and downs. The colours are like the warm and positive colours used on an African garment. The sunflowers use certain colours to make an impression, but it needs the help of sounds. In the end, the music played is a little like the beginning as it’s calm and classical. The sounds and music represent feelings and emotions going on. In the opening of the film, the music is slow and sad, and then the name of the production is shown. The film is a ‘Sankofa Production’ and the music helps to get the meaning of the word ‘Sankofa’ across. ‘Sankofa’ has a mixture of meanings. It’s an African name that means “One must return to the past in order to move forward”. This shows that Maureen Blackwood is trying to say that you have to get over the past in order to move to the present and the future.
The other two meanings are from the words ‘sans’ and ‘Khoisan’. A San is a member of the aboriginal tribe in the southern parts of Africa that are often called the bushmen, and Miriam probably belongs to that tribe. Khoisan is the name of the languages spoken by the Sans. The music played is very warm and welcoming, but most of the noises are quite disturbing. This is because people can listen to music to forget about their problems, whereas noises that are made by humans and surroundings are real, and show what’s really going on, to make the person face up to the facts. When the cereal bowl is broken, it’s like a thunderstorm. A thunderstorm always brings bad conditions or situations and so does the breaking of the bowl. As soon as the bowl is broken, loud music is turned on with the children suddenly rampaging around the house.
As the scene moves to where the mother is resting, slow jazzy music starts to play in a relaxing mood, but then the children are heard. In Africa, the children have totally different lives than the westerners. They don’t play inside, but outside the house, so their noise wouldn’t be heard. The music played often sounds like homesickness. As mentioned before, the planes that go by every so often make her want to be home and so it makes us feel sorry for her. At supper, the ruffling of the paper belonging to the fish and chips wrapper is heard, and that’s not an African meal. This shows that even though they may not realize it, they are drifting towards the English culture and way of life. Quite soon after the hut was made, the neighbour punched in buttons on the telephone. Blunt noises were heard and this showed disrespect and spitefulness towards the foreign family.
After the graffiti was sprayed on the doorstep of Miriam’s house, she and Fumi tried to scrub it off, and the noise of water and scrubbings heard were like the mother and daughter were desperately trying to hide something and brush it all under the carpet. They were scrubbing with anger and sadness. When the vandalism takes place, the sounds heard are like gunshots. This could then relate to the reason why the family may have left their homeland. The war. Gunshots are noises that would have been blatantly heard during the war and this was a reminder to them. These results show that people are different. The neighbours show themselves off much more than the main family. They always stand behind their curtains, or at least on their own property as if to show that ‘their’ environment would protect them against the blacks or the evil.
Fumi’s character and mood change quite dramatically. At first, she seems very moody and more to herself, but then when she shares the hut with her mother she realizes who she is and gives a loving hand gesture to the surface of the hut. The neighbours then ruin this image. After the nice gesture, it was turned to hatred by the kicks the hut received. Finally, the positions of the cameras were important. The opening of the film had to be shown with a long shot to show where it was. At the time of the birthday celebration, the camera was just focusing on Fumi and her mother. The close shot of the cake then gave Fumi’s identity and age. Again, when Miriam was walking back from work there was a long shot to show where she lived and what it was like. There were old terraced houses along a typical English street with a parked three-wheeled van. The vehicle is symbolic as it shows that the African part of her life is missing. Just like the van is missing the fourth wheel.
The camera focused on her hand and dirty fingernails for quite a while, to show that they are the tools to her happiness. Her hands plus the soil would make a hut. Also, when she is resting on the sofa, the camera looks down on her because everything seems to be weighing on top of her. Another incident was when Fumi was spinning around in the hut. The camera is at a high angle making the girl look vulnerable, and then when the kids are stamping on the wet mud it’s at a low angle, showing the children being superior. They are made very much bigger as they are fighting against the discrimination shown towards them. The graffiti ‘savages’ suggests coldness towards Britain, discrimination and very few rights for foreign people and this gives the impression of a hostile environment consisting of people with not a great deal of difference as they show disgust towards a different standard of living. This then makes us feel what the family is feeling and going through.
The African picture of the man in the magazine shows a difference in society, with different surrounding colours. The hut is a symbol of nationality proving that the two countries (Africa and England) completely differ. There’s the dissimilarity between the two generations, environments and people. In my opinion, the film was good and didn’t drift apart from the true meaning of what it was about. It was short and straight to the point, showing the relationship of a mother and daughter surviving in a foreign, cruel country that made the film enjoyable and interesting. I not only think that it is entertaining, but it’s also educational as television programmes only show and complain about how much these foreigners are ruining the country, and you never get to watch a family go through pain because of how they are treated. I now have a better understanding of how refugees or ethnic minorities feel emotionally and physically.