This project assesses how film exhibition, production, and distribution practices were used in the U.S. colonies to influence local populations in the late 1890s and the first decades of the 1900s. The project is positioned at the intersection of colonial history, imperial politics, and early cinema. It aims to explore the ways in which the United States – through government institutions, film distribution companies or individual entrepreneurs – employed cinema as a colonial tool in its five occupied territories: Hawaii, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Guam. Examining the U.S. practices of the distribution and exhibition of films in the five territories, with a special focus on the Philippines, the project engages with the issues of American exceptionalism, racial hierarchies, and colonial discourses prevalent at the time.
The first part of the project focuses on the first decade of cinema in the different regions, what films were exhibited and by whom, and the role of a new technology in a colonial society. The second focuses on films produced in the five territories, by filmmakers from the United States and elsewhere, and what image they created of the people and the countries. The third part assesses the distribution strategies of U.S. film companies in the territories, particularly the Philippines, and how films spread U.S. culture to the colonies and increased trade in the 1920s. As a case study it looks at two American films, and how they were marketed and received in the colonised territories.