Nowhere to Call Home: Prejudice in Tibet and China
By Olivia Acland
On Monday 16 February, the Frontline Club hosted a screening of Jocelyn Ford’s debut film Nowhere to Call Home, which documents the extraordinary journey of Tibetan farmer Zanta as she battles prejudice and sexism in order to provide her young son, Yang Quing, with an education.
Zanta is widowed at the age of twenty-eight, and is left at the mercy of her tyrannical in-laws, who do not want their grandson to go to school. She consequently escapes to Beijing in order to offer Yang Quing a better start in life than she herself was given, stating that “without education, he’s no different from a yak.” Nowhere to Call Home follows Zanta as she is victim to blatant racism in China and struggles to navigate the oppressively patriarchal Tibetan society from which she hails, in which women are systematically silenced and bullied.
Following the screening, an audience member commented on the impressive access that Jocelyn Ford had gained in locations in both Tibet and China, and asked her to comment on the different obstacles that she faced in the process.
“As you may have noticed, I had never made a film before and had no idea how to go about it. But what I was told was that there is one important thing: you must have trust from the person in your film. Zanta gave me that trust within twenty minutes of our conversation. With other people… well, Beijing is a lawless sort of place, so I would show up at the police station [to film] and they’d have to figure out what to do with me…”
Another member of the audience wondered whether the director still maintained regular contact with the protagonists of Nowhere to Call Home, Zanta and her son Yang Quing, as the project was filmed six years ago in 2009. Ford replied that she had recently been in touch with Zanta, who had provided an update on the progress of her now fourteen-year-old son:
“His English is excellent, his Maths….forget it! He’s had a lot of difficulties. The teacher has been very unwelcoming to Tibetans and told other children not to associate with him. It’s not been easy.”
The discussion then moved onto the reactions that the film had provoked, by both Tibetan and Chinese viewers. Ford commented that she had been pleasantly surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the film, on both sides:
“A lot of Han Chinese are totally shocked because the media and propaganda machine says that they treat Tibetans so well, and give them all this money… I consider this very media driven. So when they see the film they have to come to grips with the difference between what they thought before and what they see here, because Zanta is amazingly frank.”
Ford also mentioned the positive outcome of screening Nowhere to Call Home in school settings in China:
“A lot of times I’ve been really pleased with the Han Chinese high-school kids in Beijing. A lot have said, ‘Well gosh, we see there’s a problem and what do we do about it? Who should be responsible? Can I, as an individual, do anything?’ I’ve had an outpouring of people offering to help them, so I’m encouraged.”
Visit the Nowhere to Call Home Facebook page for more information and future screenings.