A Review of Escape to Doncatraz…

Featuring Jay Baker, Shami Chakrabarti, Prof Prem Sikka, Dr John Richardson, Teresa Hayter.

Written, Directed and Produced by Jay Baker.


At a time when social, economic and political sadist policies are being implemented by a government embracing a callous ideological neoliberal doctrine, alongside the problems associated with the current weak leadership and consistency of the main opposition, the Labour Party, Escape from Doncatraz raises issues relevant – whilst addressing a different period (the New Labour era)- to the political economy and media propoganda effects and relations on/to immigration control/repression from a South Yorkshire, especially Doncaster, perspective. For instance, there is a notable smack down on Labour MP, John Healy, regarding the effects New Labour’s foreign policy had upon migration, and the hypocritical stance often directed towards the people moving to escape the destitution we ourselves are helping create.  This draws a striking parallel to the current situation within Libya, as France, Italy and recently Theresa May, have turned their backs (and closed their borders) on North African immigrants, as they are increasingly surrounded by bombs and gun fire, by these very countries.

For those of you who watched Question Time two weeks ago, the question of immigration formed the first primal discussion. Worryingly, there was a damaging discourse of ‘us and them’ constructed, a discourse central to the dehumanisation of certain people, their rights and emotions – and focal to the contemporary backlash against immigration and to deflect from the current ongoing crisis of capitalistic and neoliberal political policies. This is another issue that the documentary explores.

As mentioned in previous blogs, the current government have been quick to utilise reverse discourse tactics, where groups with a history of marginalisation, such as immigrants, are blamed for the political economic problems of the time. The documentary thematically documents this authoritarian blame culture directed towards immigrants through an illustration of the wider political economic facets associated with ignorance, hate and discrimination – including an interesting interview with a BNP activist/MEP candidate, Marlene Guest, alongside a critical discussion regarding the connections between the miners, miner strikes, eventual defeat and immigration.

Many of the miners drafted in, crucial to the War effort, were migrants. The mining communities were destroyed by Thatcher, breading a fertile ground for fascism, hatred and ignorance. Once you create political economic conditions of tension, you create the right situation for prejudice and assist with the formation of the type of hate associated with the BNP. To illustrate this, the documentary introduces new concepts to understand such hegemonic discourses, such as “reverse socialism” – referring to the scapegoating of immigrants to blame the transfer of resource and help from the poor to the rich.

Another central theme is the demonstration of the prolific effects the media has had upon this construction of fear, hatred and ignorance in a detraction from complex political economic issues. Academic, John Richardson, for instance, discusses the Murdoch empire and the central links between New Labour and Murdoch; something Ed Miliband is finding hard to grapple with. The media can have powerful effects upon social, political and economic occurrences – for instance, as the documentary illustrates, the Daily Mail helped support Hitler during the War.

Furthermore, the documentary explores the relationship between immigration borders and corporate and country identity and control – again drawing interesting parallels to the current crackdown on immigration by national and international (European, notably) borders, heavily related to political economy.

There was a critical evaluation of the repression and authoritarian practices utilised to ‘deal’ with immigration. The UK ‘control’ migrants through detention centres. What struck me about these centres was their notable similarity to the detention centres within France, which can enable people who have served their prison sentence, but judged by the state as a ‘risk’ to public safety, to be put under indefinite surveillance or within a detention centre. It illustrates the purely inhuman way people can be treat, where people’s civil, political and human rights are totally disregarded. Both detention centres have no real-time limit, they treat the people within it as parcels (as argued by a partner of someone within the documentary discussing their escape from a detention centre), with no legal protection (France’s constitutional council has been doubted since the decision was made to allow detention centres). These people are given no chance for redemption, for a better life, to live in better circumstances with hopes and aspirations. This is hardly surprising given that the current political economy deprives most people of what should be basic human rights, rights that shouldn’t only be obtainable through material excess. The documentary discusses the racism, ignorance and poor training involved within the detention centres, as people were dragged out of their shower in front of people, as mere objects with no emotions, feelings or rights.

These abuses, as the documentary competently highlights, are linked to the wider political economy. For instance, the documentary utilises a case study example of a private USA based firm, Wackenhut (even criticised by the Bush administration), which ran ‘Doncatraz’ (Doncaster’s prison) and changed its name to Premier Prisons running detention centres like those described above. This draws out the pure amorality of corporations and how their conception of success is heavily rooted in profits. Even Mussolini himself recognised the importance of corporations’ amorality for fascist success:

Fascism should rightly be called Corporatism, as it is the merger of corporate and government power.” – Benito Mussolini.

Corporation, a academically themed documentary on the power and repression of corporations, illustrates the connections between corporate values (or lack of them) and the incessant repressive pursuit of profits, even if that means supporting the control of immigrants for instance. Corporations are often involved in the creation of conditions that influence immigration, as developing countries are exploited by their government and the associated private interests through cheap labour, poor rights and living conditions:

“Labour moves, capital moves. And where capital moves, labour follows” – Nick Howard, Escape From Doncatraz. 

Discussing the associated abuses of asylum seekers within these institutions, the documentary sports an interesting thoughtful interview with Chakrabarti. The documentary explores the connection between the proliferation of laws under New Labour and its positive effects upon corporations who gained more profit and capital from such abuses of rights. Propaganda helped support these corporate interests, as people became sheer commodities in pure Marxian analogy. Furthermore, the documentary competently illustrates the hypocrisy associated with many people’s views of immigration and the ‘British way of life’, through the twinning up of Majorca, Spain, a country many British people immigrant themselves to, and resist the very integration many within the UK crucify immigrants within the UK for not doing. Where in 2004, 582,000 entered Britain, 360,000 left, with asylum seekers from the previous year entering Britain decreasing by 33% – lowest level for 16 years – Spanish immigration tripled in the last 10 years (then 2009), with British immigration making up a substantial part of it.

On a more critical note, the documentary posits an interesting question regarding “what is British, and what does it mean to be British?”. For me, there is no straight forward answer, and the actual question per se raises interesting political concerns and issues. The question’s timing is interesting given the documentary was created at a time when Gordon Brown began a campaign of highlighting the ‘best of British’. For me, the documentary settles for advocating a reclamation of the British flag and what it means to be British – after all, it rightly points out the irony of the BNP utilising a flag that was used during the Second World War as symbolism of the defeat of the very fascism the BNP posses. However, in a world of increasingly interconnectedness, and in one where everyone regardless of their background should be treat as humans – has patriotism, country flags and national boundaries got a progressive place any more? Would localised, diverse identities with universal respect for basic rights be more appropriate? Rather than the constant battle for ‘supremacy’ amongst countries and their respective backgrounds?

Centrally, the documentary allows a critical exploration of the importance of valuing everyone as human; that someone’s race, sexuality or whatever should not define what piece of land they can step foot on. Furthermore, the documentary adds to the growing acclaimed critique of the hegemonic neoliberal political economy; an economy that creates voids where ignorant, hating and un-factual views, as typified by the BNP, rise. Furthermore, the power of the media and the corporate interests in creating such constructions and supporting an “us and them” discourse is competently demonstrated. A thoroughly recommended documentary for those wanting to learn and help expose the myths ventured for capital gain.

You can buy the documentary here.

Also watch out for the sequel, Return to Doncatraz (the research of which, I will be assisting with!)…


2 thoughts on “A Review of Escape to Doncatraz…

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