“Yesterday’s deconstructions are often tomorrow’s orthodox clichés.” – Stuart Hall
The collective knowledge each generation is able to garner and hopefully go on to improve the human experience has been built upon those who have taken the time to absorb and critique society.
Influential academic and activist Stuart Hall is one such man. A thinker and do’er, Mr. Hall is still actively engaged in real-people-politics and (at the ripe age of 82) has recently launched The Kilburn Manifesto. Smoking Dogs Films partner and Director John Akomfrah tells his story in a ninety-five-minute documentary: a retrospective of a career that spanned the majority of the 20th century is told via Stuart Hall’s own words, with footage made up entirely of photographic and media archives.
Fully befitting one of the founders of ‘Cultural Studies’, this beautifully crafted documentary goes on to reveal not only the motivations of the man but also a cultural deconstruction of the 20th Century. The film is accompanied by a Miles Davies score, punctuating the chapters of an eventful lifetime.
The politics of skin tone exist at the heart of Hall’s early relationship with ideas of ‘the other’. Coming from a mixed heritage background and raised in the height of British colonialism in Kingston Jamaica, Hall was made to feel ostracised within his own family due to a ‘dark’ complexion. The outcome of such experiences led Hall to investigate and deconstructing privilege, articulating ‘difference’ and its impact on culture from a 360˚ perspective.
As the documentary unfolds we witness the parallel journey of self-discovery of Stuart Hall – the individual – to the shared commonalities of the human experience. Stuart Hall is famed for several key theories such as encoding and decoding model of communication. One particular theory highlighted in the film is that of the ‘migrational drift’ – a concept that examines the impact of economic to refugee migration and where we are going culturally in the 21st century.
Somewhat ironically, Hall offers the ‘racial melting pot’ of the Caribbean as a potential model of the future, presenting identity is ‘an unfinished conversation’ where individuals identify freely with several nationalities and experiences. No matter how much the likes of UKIP rally against immigration, Hall’s contemporary analysis is likely to become the migrational theme from this point forth.
U.S. political pollsters get it and are acutely aware of the demo-psychographic shifts of the ‘All-American’ U.S. Despite founding Left Review (which became the New Left Review) and his work at the Open University, we are left with an overarching feeling of ambivalence and palpable frustration at the slow process of the pursuit of equality.
The Stuart Hall Project celebrates the great mind of a visionary but also reminds us that there are still necessary steps needed to liberate fairer ideas of gender, race, sexuality and class. As Hall states, there is no turning back from the progress already achieved.
The Stuart Hall Project is being screened at selected cinemas