“Black Jesus”: A complicated story: Toronto Hot Docs

It is hard not to hear on the television these days about thousands of migrants from Africa, Syria, Libya and many other countries making a desperate sea voyage to land on the shores of Italy, Spain or Greece. Often they are portrayed as victims of wars and civil strife but the truth may be most are young men looking for economic security thinking they are heading to the land of milk and honey where it doesn’t exist instead they are stuck in overcrowded camps with an endless wait to get recognized by the United Nations or “host governments” so they can obtain residency permits or even citizenship on humanitarian grounds.

In “Black Jesus” I am not a passive observer having spent two months on an Aegean Island in a town where there was an overcrowded refugee camp. Hundreds of mostly young men were seen wandering the streets with very little to do but hang out in parks and beaches. The once welcoming locals told me they were becoming increasingly frustrated with the swamping of their town with migrants receiving an EU stipend more than many of the locals were making. The local small hospital was overrun by migrants with communicable diseases. One woman at the camp had been raped multiple times by enlightened migrant men. At best there was resignation amongst the locals they were hostage to EU rules that required admission of “refugees” at the point of entry. The migrants were spooking the tourists in this town and that is very serious considering the local economy is feasting from May until September on tourism dollars and it is famine after that.

So before you take a dig as the Sicilians in this documentary as racists and bigots I can tell you taking sides in this situation is complicated!

The plot in the documentary is simple. The town of Siculiana in Sicily is a small coastal town with a population of 5,000 that swells in the summer as expats from the EU and North America return in the summer to swell the population to 15,000. Agriculture is shrivelling with so many people having left the island. There are few opportunities for youth. Quite frankly it is in its death throes as its youth leave looking for opportunities elsewhere.

This tight knit community is a host town for migrants some of which are fleeing civil strife but most are young men seeking salvation in the land of milk and honey. Some of the locals treat them as fellow “brothers” as if you know the history of Sicily it is a mix of Greeks, Arabs and many other groups. In fact if you know Sicilian cuisine it has a heavy Arabic streak in it. But there are those citizens who feel threatened by a wave of migrants and demonstrate about being taken over. One merchant expresses no overt hostility to the migrants but says he must protect his family and if it is a matter of them and us my family comes first. Yet there are a group of Grannies who seem divided some noting that Sicilians are a group of migrants as are these black migrants yet others who are afraid of the blacks.

But Siculiana has a black Christ in its main church that fascinate the black migrants who note the locals worship a wooden black but fail to respect real black people.

The town has its May 3rd feast to honour its black Christ and several of the migrants ask the local priest if they can join the townspeople in carrying the black Christ in an out of the church and he agrees to put forward their suggestion to the organizing committee for the Festival and they agree.

So 4 black migrants carry Christ with the locals. Do they earn the respect of locals. Yes,many are impressed but some note the “Zulus” were clumsy in the procession. 

The local “reception centre” was closed in October of 2019 and the Salvini government wants to refuse any more migrants from entering Italy and shuts migrant centres leaving thousands of young men as potential troops for the Mafia to flood the streets as they can’t be exiled but they can’t be minded by the state. Now could the answer be for this dying Italian town to incorporate the migrants into its economy and save it from a slow death? Put another way if you can’t beat em join em?

As one citizen says the solution is to make the migrant’s homeland such that there are not thousands that want to flee. Sounds easy but overly simplistic.

As one who has experienced this migrant influx and the disruption it creates I must say the solution is not Prime Minister Trudeau welcoming 15,000 Syrian “migrants” to Canada but somehow fixing the situation in their country of exile that threatens the cultural and security sovereignty of countries facing surges of “migrants”. Even the term of “migrants” needs some honest introspection. Where does the word “refugee” or “illegal” fit into reality?

Don’t flog me for this but could it be that these “migrants” are not “refugees” but young men looking for the land of milk and honey based on economic grounds rather than political ones?

To buy tickets for this 2020 92 minute film see https://boxoffice.hotdocs.ca/websales/pages/info.aspx?evtinfo=141637~367cbc04-eb03-453a-90f8-88ca48c4cf79&epguid=9759e3f1-085c-4e15-88c2-e02a8ee1f1d1&

This Italian German documentary had English subtitles. Available for viewing 29April-9May.

Only available in Canada.

Published by Robert K Stephen (CSW)

Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden and the University of Toronto. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he has established this publication. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."

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