Critique – When You Don’t Exist/Let Me In

     I have always been interested in videos or artistic pieces/expressions that use role reversals to communicate a certain message, even though it can be slightly problematic. I have come across two refugee and migrant campaign videos that are very similar in their approach, objective, target audience, and even response.

     Amnesty International is a global movement that aims to fight against human rights violations all around the world in addition to raising awareness about these injustices. In 2012, they came out with a video called When You Don’t Exist, which is a part of their “campaign for the human rights of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers in Europe and at its borders.” It aims to work against the stigma placed on refugees and migrants that seek safety and security in Europe and to shed light on the human rights violation enacted on them in secret by forces and border control officers. Based on this video, it appears that it mostly focuses on those asylum-seekers coming from African countries. It places the Europeans in the positions that these migrants and refugees have been in for years, and shows them going through similar experiences: having to travel long distances by foot with nothing but the clothes on their backs, hiding in dangerous ships (in this case inaccurately depicted since usually unstable and poorly constructed rafts are used in reality), separation from family, and having to face imprisonment without “know[ing] what [they]’ve done wrong” or being placed in detention centers for the crime of seeking safety and a “better life.” This shows the treatment of the African refugees and migrants instead being done to the Westerners instead of by them with the voices saying they need to help them instead of turning them away as a human responsibility.

     In 2016, Alicia Keys, a well-known and famous singer, starred in the cinematic short film, Let Me In,  written and directed by Jonathan Olinger that “reimagines the refugee crisis as if it was happening on America’s shores.” Let Me In is part of the We Are Here Movement and HUMAN collaboration to raise awareness of the refugee crisis and to urge the support and aid of migrants and refugees who are fleeing conflicts and disasters rather than keeping them out. This video also contains a role-reversing element where Americans are forced to flee war and air strikes, and they head for Mexico to seek refuge, a country from which migrants are typically turned away in the United States. This video also shows the Americans experiencing the same struggles and dangerous journey that refugees and migrants usually have to deal with: the dangerous boats/rafts that cross the ocean, the long distances traveled by foot with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and separation from family. One difference between the two videos is that rather than showing the equivalent treatment that the United States does to Mexican immigrants, the Mexican forces accept the Americans with open arms and provide aid, as they should. The video reverses the roles, yet at the same time, shows how we should be treating those who are fleeing war, disasters, and poverty.  

     Both videos had the same intended audience: Westerners who are unaware of the refugee and migrant crisis and who are against letting them into their countries to seek refuge and security. It aims to bring to light the reasons these people flee their homes and seek safety and lives elsewhere or in these Westerners’ countries. In addition, the role-reversal aspect incorporated into both of these videos strives to allow Westerners to imagine the possibility that what is happening to these refugees and migrants could very well happen to them in both the idea of being under siege and being denied safety in these countries and treated unfairly as they flee death or suffering. It places them in the shoes of those that they have denied or resent providing refuge to. They show the pain, fear, and suffering on the faces of what could be their children, their parents, their friends, their neighbors.

     My own critique of this is that it’s honestly put and designed beautifully with a creative way to touch the hearts of those who are ignorant of the refugee and migrant crisis or those who do not want to accept them into their country. Today, we have a general idea of what a refugee looks like (African, Arab, etc.) and what the people accepting these refugees look like (white European/American). Each video reverses the appearances of each, making the refugees look like what we typically think of as the “refugee-acceptors.” They did a wonderful job at reversing the roles and superficially showing the suffering that the refugees and migrants go through during their journey in a more general outlook (such as those stated previously about the video), because of course different situations are unique and may be better or worse. My one frustration that I have with this approach is the idea that we need to put Westerners in the position of the refugees/migrants in order to touch their hearts, change their perspective, or open their eyes and gain sympathy/empathy from them for the refugee and migrant crisis and the people themselves. It upsets me that seeing other human beings suffering and being forced into these positions isn’t enough to gain this target audience’s support in saving these people’s lives and help them gain safety and security. Is it not enough that they are living, breathing human beings?

     When I initially started watching these videos, I was more focused on this mindset as I related it to the short clip of the British little girl who is placed in the position of a refugee. However, as the videos continued, I saw that it was more than just a portrayal of Westerners in these positions, but also a reversal of the roles, which in my opinion, is even more effective. It seeks empathy from them and seeks to destigmatize this negative image around migrant and refugees by showing them how if they were in a similar situation where their homes and cities were under siege and their lives are at risk, they too would seek help elsewhere and would want these countries to let them in and provide them safety and security. It raises the questions of what if you were under attack and you sought help and safety in Africa or in Mexico? Wouldn’t you want someone to let you in and help you?

     These videos were, for the majority, received really well. Most people understood the message it was trying to convey. However, many people did not really understand the purpose or message of the video or took it negatively, and almost all of these people are part of the intended audience of the videos. On YouTube, approximately 20% of the reactions for each video were dislikes, and the negative responses were indicated through this and the comments left on the two videos.

     In addition, the videos did not reach very many people. They definitely need better marketing and awareness about the videos, especially if they plan to reach more of the intended audience and have people support these important movements. Both had similar response rates. When You Don’t Exist received around 500,00 views, and Let Me In received even less. Shockingly, this video, that starred and was posted/shared by Alicia Keys, had only a little over 300,00 views in comparison to the star’s other videos which have reached around 300 million views.

     Based on these outcomes, the campaigns/movements and videos didn’t necessarily meet their objective. To reach their objective, they need to get more viewers and reach more people since, the purpose of these is to raise awareness of the issues and make an impact on people through media. The majority of the people they did reach, however, seemed to have been positively impacted by the videos, but that can’t be determined in a definitive way except by some of the positive comments posted on the videos.