Imaging the ‘War on Drugs’ in the Margins of the Metropolis: Policing and Politics in BuyBust and Alpha, The Right to Kill


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The nightly killings that herald the Duterte administration’s anti-drug campaign has become a mundane feature in densely populated urban centers like Metro Manila. While “tokhang” entered the popular lexicon, and estimates of its casualties reached tens of thousands, the figure of extrajudicial killing (EJK), a body dumped on a pavement with a cardboard sign or lying in a pool of blood beside a gun and a packet of crystal meth, has become part of the social imaginary of the city. As signifiers of moral degradation and criminality, and of the state’s authority to inflict violence in the name of justice and security, discipline and development, images of EJKs inscribe a narrative central to the production of consent for the “war on drugs”: that of the inhumanity and disposability of the lives it takes. I argue that this necropolitical practice - understood to be a function of the modernizing mechanisms of economic progress and order-building under globalization (Bauman, 2003) - and its attendant processes of border-making and policing, has transformed urban space, social relations, and the “distribution of the sensible” (Rancière, 2004). New dynamics of suspicion and sociality under heightened surveillance (Warburg and Jensen, 2018) and the proliferation and viral circulation of spectacles of drug-related violence have given rise to visuality as a dominant structure of affective and political engagement. Considering film noir as “sociological investigations … historically determined by particular circumstances” (Brody, 2014), this paper discusses two recent films on the “drug war,” both told from the perspective of the police: Erik Matti’s BuyBust (2018) and Brilliante Mendoza’s Alpha, The Right to Kill (2018). Focusing on their depictions of the metropolis as a site of policing and political action, I ask: how do these films foreground or obscure moments of political subjectivation among those in the margins of a global city?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019
EventInter-Asia Cultural Studies Society Conference 2019: Fluid Circuits: Cultures of Knowledge After the Digital Turn - Silliman University, Dumaguete City, Philippines
Duration: 1 Aug 20193 Aug 2019


ConferenceInter-Asia Cultural Studies Society Conference 2019
Abbreviated titleIACS 2019
CityDumaguete City
Internet address


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