The world is a train and every wagon has its people. At least that is what Immigrants performed by K’naan, Snow tha Product, Riz MC, and Residente video clip from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton shows us. The video starts with a fade in. A train engineer walks between wagons. His face is covered in dark smoke as he has just finished shovelling the coal into the train furnace. He switches his radio on. We then cut to a family listening to the same radio station then another family, and another one. These families’ features suggest their belonging to different ethnicities and specific places. The speech from the radio is used as a transition and introduction that connects these peoples each in their wagon. They all listen to the same prophecy that sets the piece: ‘It’s really astonishing that in a country founded by immigrants, “immigrant” has somehow become a bad word.’ The 6 minute video song Immigrants (We Get the Job Done) was written during the 2016 American presidential campaign, precisely when Donald Trump promised to build a wall between the USA and Mexico. The song could not have been timelier. The short then cuts to black. The lyrics hit like a stinging lash ‘migrants we get the job done’. The following image is that of a traffic light blinking red. Red is one of the dominant colours of the video. Variances of that hue blink during the whole song tinting people’s faces, props and spaces. Red is also the colour of the Republican Party, the party that elected Donald Trump, one of today’s most vocal anti-immigration presidents. Only five months after his election on 6 May 2017, his first executive order was to ban citizens from seven countries from entering the USA. We follow the camera and enter another wagon, which seems a jail with bars. Then come the fruit labourers’ car, the butchers’, the kitchen workers’, the sick in hospitals, and the construction workers’. It goes on and on and we get the perception that it would never end. In this video, the use of repetition both in the lyrics and in the images becomes a powerful trick to add one layer on top of another in what becomes a distressing narrative. We get a glimpse of these train peoples’ lives with their fears and broken hopes that remind us of how migrants live every day around the world. The number of international migrants—that is people living in a country other than the one where they were born—reached 244 million in 2015 for the world as a whole, a 41% increase compared with 2000, according to recent data presented by the United Nations (‘Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2015 Revision’, published on 19 September 2015 in The UN International Migration report by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The full report can be found at www.unmigration.org). Each wagon is a microcosm in itself but the humans who inhabit them, so different from one another, all share a similar condition as migrants. Suddenly, one wagon seems to break this pattern and its homogeneity; the passengers do not seem to notice the tragedies going on in the other cars. They are all hypnotized, their gaze locked looking at their phone screens. It seems to be the privileged world reading virtual headlines, in silence and (e)motionless. It recalls the subway ride many of us would experience living in the world’s big megalopolis. These men seem absorbed into whatever issue they are dealing with. Their personal lives and problems are big enough to make the others invisible and inaudible. However, they are presented as faceless, with black rectangular pieces blocking their eyes—that in many cultures are the mirrors of one’s soul—stripping them of their individuality and possibly their humanity. They do not see or want to be seen. We settle down with these people who do not care. Yet, after a brief moment of silence in the wagon, a young man removes the mask from his face and looks into the camera. His message begins with: ‘Immigrants: we don’t like that.’ That is the moment the video’s director chose to show a family under rumbling buildings, we hear gunfire and see officers searching for hidden people. By following different characters in separate stories, with a connection between those disparate stories, Manuel Miranda and director Tomás Whitmore offer us what in film is called Hyperlink Cinema. ‘Hyperlink’ is understood as the connection between stories in a film. The director has chosen to reveal the link—being migrant—to the audience at the beginning of the piece by using the radio anchor voice. Actually by revealing the link we look closely to the narratives. Classically in known hyperlink cinema moves like Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel (2006) and Fernando Meirelles’s City of God (2002) the reveal comes much later. A visually poignant moment is when we see migrants manufacturing American flags. Nothing more than a flag is a powerful symbol of belonging to a country. Yet migrants, who seem not to be welcomed, are the ones making them. Migrants occupy even the moving train’s roof. It reminds us of the countless images in the news or uploaded on YouTube, Facebook and other streaming services of migrants and refugees using even more dangerous means of transportation; wooden boats from Africa to Europe, crossing train tunnels by foot, swimming in freezing waters, crossing deserts. That has resulted into thousands of men, women and children losing their lives. On this overcrowded train roof, the lyrics switch from English to Spanish. This makes us wonder, how did they get there? How did they buy that ticket? Who is behind this market? They must have been aware of the risks involved in taking that ride and the possible dramatic consequences. What they left behind is probably worse than whatever is coming their way or what they hope to find. They will probably become cheap labour but as Residente the rapper says: ‘We plant the tree and they reap the fruits.’ We are the migrants. We, the viewers, are placed for once in their realities. The point of view suddenly changes and we pull out the train. We see other trains and the globe becomes a network of similar trains, each one has a load of complex stories and untold dramas. They run non-stop as an unstoppable system layered of facts and news stories through the human story. This short video has put a face to these people. Wherever they may be from they are only searching for a place to live, see their children grow and build a better future. In tackling an issue we thought we knew so well, Manuel Miranda’s song shows us that they are the ones who are building the country in which they land. By ‘they’ he means refugees and migrants, two terms that have become for the general population increasingly blurred.1 The trains cross the globe at frenetic speed. They become smaller and smaller. The globe is so small it gets almost lost in an infinite universe and, alongside that, our small lives become unnoticeable too. What really matters is the global politics relating to migrants and refugees in the world, the unequal repartition of goods, education and health benefits and privileges. The video’s fiction seems close to its end, and as we get ready to go back to whatever our daily lives give us, at that precise moment, the director chooses to show us ‘reality’. Young kids—non actors—all affected directly by migration, follow and sing the refrain: ‘Immigrants, we get the job done.’ While subtly and indirectly, the video’s lyrics and images make clear that the USA and their administration is the primary target. However, in including the globe’s infinite trains the video’s key message wishes to resonate well beyond the USA in many developed and developing countries today. The short has a powerful outlook on this incredibly complex issue: it acknowledges the intersections between global forces and very personal stories, where we seem to be each in our separate wagon, but we are all on board of the very same train system; where our outlook constantly switches between ‘we’ and ‘they’, as categories that may not be as fixed as we may imagine or hope. The music video for Immigrants (We Get the Job Done) from THE Hamilton MIXTAPE, released back in June 2016, was nominated in the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards for ‘Best Fight Against the System’. To conclude on a positive note, increasing attention is paid both by the music business and the public to human migration. Visual storytelling and cinema in a broader sense have helped unpack stories. The point of view is clear as the title states. Compared with many videos, this one didn’t count on beautiful bodies and grandiose choreographs to glue us to the screen and make us watch. This short film has used images as powerful metaphors to illustrate the dynamics described in the lyrics. An illuminating yet empathetic film, Immigrants (We Get the Job Done) is relevant to everyone, hip-hop fans, filmmakers and scholars, regardless of the wagon they are travelling in. Footnotes 1. The core definition of a ‘refugee’ is contained in the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, which defines a refugee as an individual who: ‘Owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable or—unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.’ Nonetheless millions of people that do not fall under this definition are running around the world looking for new places they can call home. The vast majority hopes to go back as soon as possible. In ‘Migrants we get the job done’ faces and characters can be identified as both refugees and migrants. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Migration Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 5, 2018
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