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Representation of Aid in documentaries

What we see in documentaries is often constructed reality. Often times documentaries that show people of color getting aid from white people are rooted in exaggeration, dehumanisation and the white saviour complex.


There are a lot of problems with representation in such documentaries. One problem is the dehumanisation of people of color when they are shown in very vulnerable conditions in documentaries. They are documented without consent and treated inhumanly with no regard to whether they are clothed in the clips that are captured or whether they seem stressed out or sad. These things do not

happen to white people. We do not see documentaries of white people being treated like objects when they are documented.


By reducing the people of color into mere objects, the media portrays a one sided aspect to situations where the people of color have no voice and only the white people are their saviours. In such documentaries, the very one sided view of things also create this image of the white people as being super helpful even though the realities are constructed and the videos are biased and exaggerated, showing only what fits the motive of seeing white people in a positive light.


These documentaries are also rooted in racism, when aid is given to conflict areas, the documentaries usually only focus on those areas that constitute of people of color since it is easier to change narratives and portray other people as objects. There is also a lot of mistreatment of women and children and issues of consent that go unchecked.


Let me know what you guys think.

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14 Comments


You've raised crucial points about the problematic aspects of representation in documentaries, particularly concerning people of color. The observation about the dehumanization and lack of consent in how they are portrayed is significant. Documentaries should aim for authentic and respectful storytelling, avoiding perpetuating stereotypes or reinforcing the white savior narrative. The need for a more balanced and inclusive representation, considering diverse perspectives, is essential. It prompts us to question the ethics behind such productions and emphasizes the importance of responsible storytelling in the media. Your insights contribute to a broader conversation on how documentaries can better navigate these complexities.

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Most of these documentaries are made by white people about white people ‘aiding’ people of color. It paints them as heroes and upholders of the humanitarian cause, and often depicts the people of color as violent, ‘savage’ or uneducated. They are stripped of their personhood and transformed into a symbol for the failure of third-world countries. However, do you think documentaries by people of these very nations are better? I wonder what you think about the narrative that Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy constructs for example, and its relevance in creating an authentic image, even if not linked to aid?

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I have not seen the documentary, however what I focused on in my blog is documentaries pertaining to providing aid, like the one we saw in class. I have personally never seen white babies crying and screaming and held as if they were toys, I have also not seen white fully nude women unaware of what is happening. I do think there is disparity when it comes to documentaries about giving aid.

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I couldn't agree more with your insights on documentaries! The way people of color are often portrayed receiving aid from white individuals can indeed perpetuate harmful stereotypes and reinforce the white saviour complex- and it’s disheartening to see the dehumanization of individuals in vulnerable conditions without their consent, especially when such treatment is not extended to white subjects.

The racism embedded in these documentaries, particularly in conflict areas, is a critical issue. Focusing solely on people of color in these contexts can distort the narrative and contribute to harmful stereotypes- and this is indeed something we’ve seen happening often

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Saghaam Fatima
Saghaam Fatima
Nov 30, 2023

Marwah, I really like your blog! I admire that your blog raises important issues regarding how people of colour are portrayed in documentaries, especially when aid or assistance is being provided. After watching the documentaries in class and having discussions about how often people of colour are portrayed in vulnerable situations without their consent or dignity being respected—a treatment that is rarely given to white people—I never would have thought of documentaries in this way, representing issues of constructed reality and the perpetuation of the white saviour complex. Rather, the majority of these documentaries don't even include white people. I think that in general, these documentaries fall short of giving an accurate portrayal of the conditions they seek to show,…


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Very true! Documentaries can be insanely problematic. I'm also reminded of the differences between documentaries portraying rich people versus those that portray marginalized societies. Even when these documentaries try to villainize the multi-millionaire, in most I've seen this air of awe as well, something that doesn't truly get to the rot of the cause or make you feel as angry as you should. On the other hand, when talking about marginalized, there's always an air of looking down on the person that is suffering, treating them only as a tear-jerker or something to pity than a multi-faceted human being.

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